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Pioneer Day celebration canceled in Salt Lake City

Days of ’47 committee notes time running out for building floats

The Days of ’47 Arena at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
The Days of ’47 Arena at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — All of the annual Days of ’47 Pioneer Day celebrations that pack downtown Salt Lake City every July have been canceled in light of the circumstances imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The board acknowledges conditions may change between now and July, but because considerable work needs to be done in the meantime — much of which involves large groups building floats, etc. — a deadline had to be imposed, and the decision had to be made now,” organizers said in a news release late Tuesday afternoon.

The Days of ’47 board of trustees met in the morning to make the final decision, choosing to cancel 2020’s parade, rodeo, Pioneers of Progress dinner, sunrise service and pops concert “only after thorough consideration of input from all applicable sources.”

The Days of ’47 celebration is the latest of a string of summer cancellations caused by the novel coronavirus, joining two other fixtures of the Pioneer Day holiday, the Bountiful Handcart Days and the Deseret News Marathon, as well as Salt Lake’s annual arts festival in June. Organizers of two other major July events — America’s Freedom Festival in Provo and Ogden Pioneer Days — have yet to reach a decision on if they will be held.

Lane Summerhays, Days of ’47 board of trustees president, said canceling the celebration was “not taken lightly.” First priority in determining whether to postpone the events until next year was given to state and local officials’ public health guidelines.

“The board expresses appreciation for all the work that has been done thus far, and wants to assure the public that plans will go forward in earnest for presentation of all events next year — hopefully in ways that will amply compensate for this year’s loss,” Summerhays said in the news release.

The Days of ’47 celebration started in 1849, two years after Latter-day Saint pioneers settled in the Salt Lake Valley. An estimated 250,000 people gathered throughout downtown Salt Lake City to watch about 100 floats coast down the street stretching between South Temple and State to Liberty Park in 2019.

The Days of ’47 Arena at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
The Days of ’47 Arena at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Another loss this summer is the 70-year-old Bountiful Handcart Days. Citing “unprecedented circumstances,” organizers announced April 15 that most of the 2020 events have been canceled due to the constraints social distancing restrictions place on organizing it.

Organizers said readying the celebration planned for July 17 and 18 “takes months of preparation from hundreds of volunteers.”

The decision was met with some sadness from the community, including Josher Hansen, whose father was the director of the Handcart Days festival from 1995-2001. Hansen said he hopes that there will still be a way to commemorate the occasion, if not this summer, then perhaps next year.

“I think if we make it special in some regard, we’ll remember that one year in 2020 when we couldn’t have the race or the parade,” he said. “But we’ll remember how we came together as a community in some other way.”

The consensus to cancel Bountiful Handcart Days came from organizers, city officials and the health department. They hope that restrictions might be eased by July, which would enable them to still have a performance from the band Joshua Creek followed by a free fireworks show.

The annual Deseret News Marathon, half-marathon, 10K and 5K races held on July 24 also fell victim to the pandemic, the news organization announced Tuesday.

“Based on the coronavirus and the desire to keep runners and the public safe, we need to cancel the races this year,” said Mike Todd, chief financial officer and associate publisher of the Deseret News and race organizer.

Those who signed up will receive an email this week informing them of what actions they need to take for a refund.

“Our desire is to give the runners an option to get a refund of their entry fee or defer their entry fee to next year’s races,” Todd said.

Hot air balloons fly over Utah County during America’s Freedom Festival Balloon Fest on Friday, July 5, 2019.
Hot air balloons fly over Utah County during America’s Freedom Festival Balloon Fest on Friday, July 5, 2019.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Organizers of America’s Freedom Festival in Provo have yet to reach a decision of whether or not it will be canceled. A spokesperson from the office said that as soon as a consensus is reached, the announcement will be given to the public promptly.

America’s Freedom Festival includes a number of events scattered throughout May, June and July, but is perhaps best known for its July 4th and Stadium of Fire concert and fireworks show.

No decision has been made either for the Ogden Pioneer Days and Rodeo scheduled July 20-24.

Alan Hall, chairman of the Ogden Pioneer Days Foundation, said this would be the celebration’s 86th year, which consist of concerts, a firework show, parades and of course, the rodeo. The rodeo, he said, has been recognized has one of the top five in the country, bringing in the best livestock, cowboys and cowgirls.

Hall said they are ready to go forward with the rodeos and other activities, but the Weber County Health Department will give “the final yay or nay” by June 1 — the “drop dead date” for a decision to be made.

Hall said cancellation would be a “disappointment” to so many people in the community as it is “the biggest event of the whole year for five different counties,” but with that being said, organizers await the health department’s word for final say.