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Out & About: Remote or in person, fall festivals adapt to new pandemic reality

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/7/2020 8:32:19 PM
Modified: 9/7/2020 8:32:13 PM

When the pandemic first took hold, there was hope that fall would be different: Canceled events would be rescheduled, large gatherings could resume and people could once again move around the Upper Valley without restrictions.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and social distancing guidelines remain in place, nonprofit organizations have had to cancel fall festivals or rethink the way they’re offering activities. That’s particularly true for places that see a spike in visitors during the fall.

Each year, the Enfield Shaker Museum holds two fall-themed festivals: the Harvest Festival in September, which draws 300-500 visitors, and the Cider and Cheese Festival in October, which draws more than 1,000.

“In a typical year for us, the Cider and Cheese Festival is definitely our biggest event,” said Kyle Sandler, education coordinator at the museum. “That’s part of the reason we’re not doing them this year. It’s not really safe to have that many people gathered together.”

Instead, staff have come up with two new programs to make up for the loss. One is the Harvest Festival To-Go. Each Friday in September, people can pick up a free activity package with crafts geared toward children ages 6-12.

“So far we’ve had a very positive response,” Sandler said. More than 150 kits were requested before last Friday. “People are looking for socially distanced activities they can do with their kids. I think going forward we’ll do more of this type of thing.”

For adults, the museum is starting an online lecture series that’ll cost $15 to tune in. For an added treat, people can request gift baskets with food and beverages that correspond with the lecture for a cost of $40. A talk about cider and cheese, for example, will have samples that people can consume as they follow along.

“They can pick them up from the museum and enjoy them during the talk,” Sandler said. “It’s been an interesting year and we’ve been focusing on trying new things.”

Visitors can still walk the grounds of the museum and schedule tours in advance.

At the Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, staff have had to rethink the way they do in-person activities.

“Our activities are limited this year to being more demonstration than interactive because of the need for social distancing, and the handling of things and the safety protocols that are all in place,” said Marge Wakefield, PR and community relations coordinator at the nonprofit organization. “That being said, there will still be lots of interesting things going on and it’s still an experience.”

For example, children can no longer share markers while working on crafts.

“It’s been a challenge for our operations staff (to find) hands on crafts that can be done without too much concern about the spread of germs from one visitor to the next,” Wakefield said.

All of the animal barns, with the exception of the heifer barn, are closed to the public. The busiest months for Billings Farm tend to be July and October. During Columbus Day Weekend, the Harvest Festival has been a mainstay, but this year those activities are being spread out between Sept. 19 and Oct. 18.

“Each one of those weekends will highlight a different harvest tradition and we’ll have a different craft as well,” Wakefield said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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