Tens of thousands of bikers are likely to descend on Port Dover this August for Friday the 13th.
How best to safely welcome them is currently a hot topic at Norfolk County council.
County officials recently asked councillors to declare the popular motorcycle rally a “non-event” and launch a marketing campaign to discourage visitors.
But at the March 16 meeting, Coun. Amy Martin, who represents Port Dover, successfully pushed to defer the vote until May.
“A lot can happen with COVID-19 on very short notice, and we’re essentially half a year away from the event. We do have time to iron this out,” said Martin, who recommended the county still make a plan for the “non-event” even if it is not officially endorsed.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of people here regardless of the county’s messaging,” she said.
Along with issuing permits for food and merchandise vendors, Norfolk County usually closes streets, co-ordinates extra policing and sets up additional trash cans, as well as allocating dedicated parking areas for the scores of motorcycles that roar through town.
Martin predicted a hands-off approach from the county toward the biker rally — which is not a formally organized event and therefore cannot be officially cancelled — would strain local restaurants and bars coping with large lines, and see the streets clogged with traffic.
The Kinsmen Club, which typically issues Friday the 13th vendor permits on behalf of the county while organizing beer tents, camping and port-a-potties, shares those concerns.
“Our recommendation to council was it’s too early to make this decision,” said Kinsmen volunteer Amie Ferris.
Club members understand “the typical, full-blown Friday the 13th isn’t going to happen,” but mass vaccination by July could “change how this event would look,” she added.
CAO Jason Burgess assured councillors that staff will plan for a crowd and monitor developments with the pandemic in the meantime, adding that the county would co-ordinate efforts with local service clubs, emergency services and the board of trade.
Public health officials are concerned a large summertime rally could become a COVID-19 superspreader event.
EMS chief Sarah Page, who heads the county’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, reminded councillors the beneficial effects of the vaccine take weeks to kick in, adding that people coming from outside the region may not have the same protection as Norfolk residents.
“While we may have a great portion of our population locally vaccinated, the areas around us may not,” Page said.
Ferris said the county should make it easy for visitors to get into town, grab a souvenir T-shirt and a bite to eat, and hit the road. In her opinion that includes closing roads and issuing food vendor permits.
“If they still have limited seating capacity, there aren’t enough restaurants in town to feed people,” she said.
Even a “scaled-down” August event presents plenty of logistical challenges that must be thought out before large crowds get to town, Ferris added.
“They’re coming, and if Norfolk County doesn’t have the facilities for them, it’s going to be a nightmare.”
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator