After 71 years of bringing people together in Akeley, concerns about gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the cancellation of the 72nd annual Paul Bunyan Days and with it the 5K run for Audrey’s Purple Dream.

Peg Davies, who chairs the event, said the committee debated about having a one-day event, but after an informal poll of residents, the majority believed the best decision was to cancel.

After putting the cancellation on the city website and Facebook page, Davies said no one has criticized the decision to cancel.

“Dealing with this pandemic, it’s a struggle,” she said. “Hopefully, things will look different by next summer.”

Longtime resident Frank Lamb said this is the first year Paul Bunyan Days has been cancelled since it began in 1949.

“One year we had to cancel the parade when it rained, but other than that we’ve never missed Paul Bunyan Days,” he said. “Most celebrations won’t happen this year or they’ll be really scaled down. We can’t help it. It’s better just to wait and do it next year and do it right. We’ll just have to grin and bear it.”

Lamb said there are still plenty of activities for people to enjoy in Akeley while social distancing. “Use the trails, lakes and woods,” he said. “You’ve got the 4-wheelers and fishing and all of that.”

“The Heartland Trail is being used a lot,” Davies said. “Friends of mine from Nevis hiked on the North Country Trail the other day and said it was great. We’ve had happy hour with social distancing in our backyard. It’s nice just to be outside.”

Davies said the Akeley Regional Community Center is open again now, including the library.

“Another thing people have been doing around town is painting rocks. They go around and secretly place them here and there for people to find.”

Davies said she is concerned about the lack of masks being worn in stores in this area. “People don’t seem to be wearing them like they should,” she said. “People think we don’t have the virus here, but it’s all around us and it’s just a matter of time. Maybe we do and we don’t even know it because they haven’t been tested. There’s really no excuse for not wearing a mask when you’re around other people.”

Cirks fishing tournament also cancelled

“We waited until after the fishing opener to make the decision to cancel,” event organizer Jeremy Anderson said of the event that has been held each June since the mid-1980s.

“It’s the right thing to do, the safest thing to do,” he said. “Kevin Lindow is one of the event organizers, too. We talked about it and sent out emails and texts to those who have fished it the past three years and have only gotten positive feedback on the decision to cancel. Kevin and I have been fishing it for over 20 years, that’s over half our life. It was hard for us to cancel but there will be other years.”

He said quite 14 of the 50 teams would have had to come from an hour-and-a-half or more away.

“They usually bring their families and make a whole weekend of it, but that wouldn’t have worked this year,” he said.

A fishing guide, Anderson said he did his first guide trip of the season this week with one passenger on the Bottle Lakes.

“We finally got some sun and we both got our limit of walleye with six that were all nice eaters, all in six or seven feet of water,” he said. “We didn’t get a bite of anything for the first hour and 10 minutes, but once we found them they were really feeding. The water’s just getting to that perfect temperature.”

He said fishing this spring so far has been very contingent on the weather.

“I think there’s fewer locals from outside the area fishing here, but some of the locals have said that since they are not working they’ve never gotten to fish so much this time of year,” he said.

Waiting for decisions on other events

Nancy Lewis of the Nevis Civic and Commerce Association said they are holding off on making decisions on other events until next week or even later. She said deciding whether events happen also depends on whether the city can secure the permits and state mandates on social gatherings.

“We canceled our June 28 water ski show,” she said. “We don’t know yet about the shows for July and August. We’re going to try to do a scaled back version of Sites and Bites June 14 because we want to support our restaurants and promote that they are open within the governor’s regulations. As far as the triathlon, we’re not going to make a decision now because that’s further into the summer.”

Lewis encouraged visitors to stop by the pollinator garden near the Heartland Trail.

“There’s the Paul Bunyan Forest north of Nevis to explore, ATV trails, the Heartland Trail and lots of lakes nearby,” she said. “Nevis also has a frisbee golf course at the park by Shallow Lake.”

Currently, the city beach, parks and bathrooms are closed following the governor’s recommendations.

Once restrictions are lifted, children will also be able to enjoy a new playground at Muskie Park later this summer.