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Minnesota festivals and events 're-open for business' in pandemic's wake as summer travel season begins

After two years of events being canceled or dramatically scaled back due to the pandemic, Minnesota tourism officials are declaring business as usual for the summer of 2022, as several of the state’s big gatherings celebrating anniversaries of note.

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Crowds fill the Fairgrounds on the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair in Falcon Heights in August 2019. (John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press)
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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Sure, those take home do-it-yourself seed art kits were great fun. And driving through the Minnesota State Fairgrounds for a taste of the foods — the ones folks normally sample while walking around in shorts, with a fanny pack, in late August — was a unique experience. But the past two years and all the pandemic-related cancellations and changes have been a reminder that there is nothing like a true Minnesota State Fair-going experience.

While COVID is still “a thing” in some forms, and likely will remain so for years, there is a growing sense of a return to pre-2020 life in most corners of Minnesota, and that is a welcome development for the people who organize the region’s events and festivals.

On a recent weekday morning, representatives from Explore Minnesota Tourism and some of the state’s best-known special events gathered in a Mall of America atrium to, essentially, declare the state “re-open” for summer travel and tourism.

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Lauren Bennett McGinty, the Minnesota state tourism director, spoke at a press conference regarding summer festivals and events held on Wednesday, May 4, 2022, at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.
Contributed / Explore Minnesota Tourism

“It’s coming back, and we have a lot of marquee events coming up. There’s just so much to do this coming summer and there’s pent-up travel demand and excitement,” said Lauren Bennett McGinty, who took over as the state tourism director in November 2021. She cited a survey in which nearly 90% of respondents said they are ready to travel again in the summer of 2022. “We’re ready for them and we’re partnering with all sorts of associations and businesses to say, ‘What do you have to offer, and how can we help?’”

After being canceled in 2020, the State Fair returned last summer, but masks were prevalent on-site and attendance was down as many remained wary of being among large crowds, especially with variants of the virus spreading in some circles. State Fair organizers did things like drive-through food events and the aforementioned at-home seed art kits, but having people on-site in Falcon Heights last summer was a huge step forward. Renee Alexander from the State Fair noted that the event had a $268 million annual impact on the Minnesota economy prior to the pandemic, and they are keeping an eye on virus spikes and other potential hazards while planning for a more normal State Fair experience in 2022.

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“We are business as usual, cautiously optimistic and we’ll pay attention to what’s happening and how the landscape changes and adjust as we need to,” Alexander said. “We’re seeing healthy numbers come in as far as grandstand tickets go, which is kind of an early indicator of people returning. Our vendors are returning their license agreements and we’re really hopeful that we’ll see really strong numbers throughout the fair this year.”

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Laura Brennan, Natalie Elmore, Laura Sosalla and Rachael Bentley celebrate after crossing the finish line of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (Evan Frost / MPR News)

The re-emergence summer of 2022 also happens to coincide with anniversaries for some of the state’s bigger events. An official from Twin Cities in Motion, on hand for the Mall of America announcement, noted that the 26.2-mile Twin Cities Marathon on Oct. 1 will be the 40th race to wind around the Minneapolis lakes and down Summit Avenue in St. Paul. They are working to find as many runners as they can who have participated in the previous 39.

Twin Cities Pride began 50 years ago as a protest against the treatment of LGBTQ people in the state and has grown into a multi-day, multi-event celebration of freedom and acceptance, held annually in June. Dot Belstler, the executive director of Twin Cities Pride, was on hand to announce that Carly Rae Jepsen will headline their concert, which will be held at the Armory in Minneapolis on June 25.

“Having the parade/march this year really kind of brings it all together. Last year we had an event kind of pulled together at the eleventh hour, but this year it’s kind of full force and we’re pretty excited about it,” Belstler said. Other notable event anniversaries this summer include the 50th Water Ski Days in Lake City, the 85th anniversary of SPAM in Austin, and the 100th birthday of Grand Rapids native Judy Garland.

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Maurielle Storms, of Excelsior, Minnesota, wears a rainbow mask during the 49th annual Twin Cities Pride Festival at Loring Park in Minneapolis on July 18, 2021. Craig Lassig / Special to the St. Paul Pioneer Press

“It’s kind of crazy how it all coalesced,” Bennett McGinty said. “We were looking at this and seeing this pattern of everybody celebrating something, and we figured, why not celebrate all of the great things happening.”

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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