Ketchikan’s Blueberry Arts Festival is on for this coming weekend despite a rise in COVID-19 cases throughout Southeast Alaska. But, organizers have kept activities outdoors and will be promoting free vaccinations.

The festival was given its name because it coincides with the time blueberries ripen. Last year it was cancelled for the first time in its history due to the pandemic. This will be the festival’s 46th year. In its beginnings, it was a one-day event held in Ketchikan’s State Office Building parking garage. Over time, it expanded to three days and branched out downhill and into adjacent parking lots.

Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council Executive Director Kathleen Light says events kick off this Friday afternoon with the Pet, Doll and Mask Parade.

“Since that parade often draws younger people who can’t be vaccinated, we’re asking that they wear masks and make that part of their regalia.”

Also on Friday, the Blueberry Arts Festival Juried Art Show will open at the Main Street Gallery. Masks and social distancing are required.

Most activities take place on Saturday. Light says much will remain the same with running races and booths, but some annual traditions are postponed until next year.

“So no slug race this year, no pie eating contest, no Great Blueberry Ball Roll. All of those activities draw younger people who possibly could not get a vaccine. So we’ve eliminated those events and tried to make it really safe for the community.”

The festival is moving downhill to the heart of downtown and several streets will be closed to vehicles to accommodate booths and pedestrian traffic. These include the lower part of Main Street, and portions of Dock and Mission streets.

Julie Lekwauwa sells home-made jams and jellies and has participated in the festival as a vendor for seven years. She’s excited changes will allow for nearby parking and increased accessibility.

“I know a couple of people have told me in the past that it’s been difficult to get around if you’re in a wheelchair or a scooter. So this will not only disperse the crowd out a little bit more, but most of it is on flatter ground which I think will also really help.”

Lekwuawa says she’s very social and missed not being able to interact with people last summer. She hopes people will turn out.

“If you feel uncomfortable, wear a mask.  I’m really hoping that it will be a great time for everybody. It’ll be a new format, but it will have the same spirit as the old Blueberry Festival. That is what I’m really hoping for.”

Jacob Mensurian, owner of the Salmon Market, is pleased the festival is returning, and that activities have been moved to the core of downtown.

“I’m really glad that they are doing this because we have to revitalize downtown. We feel like orphans who are forgotten. And this will be an opportunity to connect local vendors with part-time summer business owners. This will turn the event to a more community event and I would like to thank the people who gave their precious time to organize this.”

In addition to food and art booths, Light says the festival will host a mainstage fundraiser – COV-Aid.

“We’re going to be raising money for businesses that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic – small, year-round local businesses. And all that money we raise from COV-Aid will be split equally between the businesses that apply.”

Applications are available on the Arts Council’s website through August 16.

Also on Saturday is the free Blueberry Vaccine Clinic where Public Health will have all three COVID vaccines available: Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Light says incentives are being offered to encourage people to get vaccinated.

“Great, great prizes. Including prizes for those that have already had their vaccine before Blueberry.”

Prizes for newly vaccinated people include $100 gift cards from local businesses, and entry into hourly $100 cash prize drawings.  Those who are already vaccinated need to show proof of vaccination for entry into the Grand Prize drawing for $2,000 cash. Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink, will be attending the festival and drawing names of the winners.

The vaccine clinic is in the St. John’s Episcopal Church parking lot from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday where there will also be a wheelchair and walker loaner station. ADA parking will be available across the street at Whale Park.

Events conclude on Sunday with the human-powered boat race in the afternoon, and a poetry slam in the evening. Since all events are outdoors, organizers and booth holders are hoping for good weather. The current prediction for Saturday – a 30% chance of rain.