Biggest Week festival canceled after coronavirus outbreak

Written by OEDF

March 24, 2020

OAK HARBOR — The Biggest Week in American Birding festival, which was scheduled to take place May 8-17, is the latest major event to be canceled due to the coronavirus and the cascade of restrictions related to efforts to stop the spread of the pathogen.

Kimberly Kaufman, the executive director of the festival host Black Swamp Bird Observatory, announced the move early Tuesday morning. The BSBO, located about 10 miles north of here along the Lake Erie shoreline, has been the driving force behind the creation and exponential growth of the event, which has been celebrated each spring for the past 10 years.

“With the potential of the impacts of COVID-19 likely to stretch on for many weeks, even if the all-clear is given soon, at this point the BSBO team does not feel confident that we could deliver the kind of quality experience that has become the signature of The Biggest Week,” Ms. Kaufman said in a prepared statement. “And while birds and birding are important to all of us, protecting people is paramount.”

The Biggest Week, which is based at Maumee Bay State Park but includes outings and events throughout the region, has drawn upwards of 70,000 people from every state, 52 countries, and from six continents. An even larger gathering was expected for the 2020 festival, which besides many day trips to bird-watching sites from the Lake Erie Islands to Oak Openings to the Michigan marshes of western Lake Erie, would have included lectures, workshops, educational sessions, social gatherings, and youth-oriented events.

The cancelation of the 2020 Biggest Week deals an economic haymaker to the region since the festival had sparked an early start to the tourist season at hotels, restaurants, and shops along the lakeshore corridor. The economic impact of the Biggest Week was estimated at around $40 million in a study conducted five years ago, and the event has continued to grow in the years since that data was evaluated.

As the state rolled out its latest inventory of ramped up restrictions, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources had announced on Monday that the uber-popular boardwalk at Magee Marsh was closed, along with the parking lot adjacent to the boardwalk and the nearby Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center. The boardwalk, an elevated structure that winds its way through a large wooded marsh that is frequently crowded with migrating warblers and throngs of birders, is the epicenter of the festival viewing sites due to the superb vantage point it offers.

Ms. Kaufman said the closure of the boardwalk did not bring about the cancellation of the Biggest Week festival since serious planning for such a move had been in the works prior to Magee Marsh being shuttered.

The Biggest Week festival has its foundation in the hundreds of thousands of migrating birds that pass through the region each spring. These migrating birds will cluster in the woodlots, fields, and marshes along the lake, resting and feeding as they recharge before attempting the long flight across the open lake. Several major migration paths that bring the birds from their wintering grounds in Central America, South America and the Caribbean to their nesting sites in the forests of North America converge in this part of the country.

Ohio’s Lake Erie shoreline is often referred to as the “Warbler Capital of the World.” Over the past week, crowds of birders had already begun to gather at the Magee Marsh boardwalk and other popular birding locations along the lake.

By Matt Markey / The Blade
Mar 24, 2020

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