Flathead Gears Up for Summer

Most summer events are planned to resume following a slew of cancellations in 2020 as organizers anticipate busy tourism season

By Maggie Dresser
A kayaker competes in the Expert Slalom event during the 44th annual Bigfork Whitewater Festival on a foamy section of the Swan River known as the “Wild Mile” on May 25, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

After a year of cancellations and postponements as the COVID-19 pandemic raged through 2020, festivals, concerts and community events in the Flathead Valley appear to be moving forward as local organizers plan for a busy summer.

“I think most things are going to be back up to what we usually expect,” Whitefish Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kevin Gartland said.

Gartland confirmed that all Whitefish chamber events are scheduled for 2021, including Fourth of July fireworks at Whitefish Lake, Huckleberry Days Arts Festival on Aug. 13-15 and Great Northwest Oktoberfest on Sept. 23-25 and Sept. 30 through Oct. 2, along with Feast of Whitefish this fall.

Officials also received a permit for the Whitefish Trail Hootenanny, although that event has not been officially scheduled.

The City of Whitefish currently has a mask ordinance, and Gartland says the chamber will adhere to city requirements and safety guidance for the events.

“Wherever we are in the process, we will act responsibly,” he said.

Whitefish Gallery Nights is also planned to proceed this summer along with Whitefish Woody Weekend at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake.

Food trucks in Depot Park in Whitefish for Huckleberry Days on Aug. 9, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Under the Big Sky Festival was canceled in 2020 and rescheduled for July 17-18 this year with most of last year’s original lineup listed on its website, including headliners Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit and Tyler Childers. Gartland says it will likely happen, although he has not received official confirmation from the festival’s organizers.

“People seem to be very anxious both to host events and go to events,” Gartland said.

Events in Kalispell are also moving forward this summer. Pam Carbonari of the Kalispell Downtown Association is planning for a shortened season of Thursday!Fest, a free weekly concert event at the Northwest Montana History Museum. The season is planned to run from July 15 to Aug. 26, with seven events instead of the usual 10.

Carbonari says the Kalispell Downtown Association also plans to host Comfortable in Kalispell in late April or early May. The event launched last June and featured musicians playing outside local businesses to encourage people to shop and get outside after months of quarantine. It will be combined with the installation of artistic bike racks, which is part of Kalispell Art on the Streets (KAOS).

Thursday!Fest in downtown Kalispell. Beacon File Photo

This fall, Kreepyspell Krawl is planned on Halloween, and a Ladies Night in downtown Kalispell is also possibly in the works, Carbonari said.

“Depending on where we are in the community with regards to COVID, (we) will make a determination about what precautions are in place such as social distancing,” Carbonari said.

The 46th annual Bigfork Whitewater Festival is scheduled for Memorial Day Weekend on May 28-30 this year. Kayakers will once again race the class IV whitewater known as the “Wild Mile” on the Swan River. Events include the slalom and giant slalom races on the lower and upper river sections. Organizers plan to enforce safety precautions, such as increased sanitation and restructuring the vendor layout to encourage distancing.

The Bigfork Festival of the Arts is also scheduled for Aug. 7-8 this summer.

“This will be the most insane summer we’ve ever had,” Gartland said.

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