The 2021 Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is six weeks away and much remains up in the air. If anything is certain, it’s that the 2021 event will look very different than festivals of the pre-COVID-19 era.

Growers Roozengaarde and Tulip Town plan to open their tulip fields to the public at reduced capacity and will likely require online tickets and reservations.

As for the dozens of events that take place during the monthlong festival, some will be held in a modified format and others have been canceled for a second year due to COVID-19.

In a normal year, an estimated 400,000 attend the festival, which runs April 1-30. In 2020, when a stay-at-home order was in place, the festival had zero guests.

Tulip Festival Executive Director Cindy Verge said her office is fielding many calls inquiring about seeing tulips this spring.

“It’s clear people haven’t forgot about the Tulip Festival,” she said. “Everyone this spring will be looking for something that is safe to go to and being outside, looking at something that is absolutely gorgeous, how can you beat that?”

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Tulip growers navigate rules

Tulip growers should follow Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 agritourism guidance, said Mike Faulk, spokesperson for Inslee’s office.

The guidance, which also applies to activities such as U-pick berry farms and pumpkin patches, requires operations to be held outdoors or in covered areas with optimal ventilation.

Businesses must ensure 6 feet of distance between nonhousehold members, which may necessitate advance reservations and timed ticketing, the guidance states.

Indoor operations are limited to retail and food service. Mobile, credit card and cash-free payment options are recommended. Businesses must post signs requiring social distancing and face coverings to be worn.

“We are confident we can meet or exceed the prescribed COVID protocols and regulatory guidance and still host more than 1,000 people at a time across the farm,” Tulip Town co-owner Andrew Miller wrote in an email. “With our bloom spread across 5 acres of tulips in the field, more than an acre of planted tulips in the garden and 16,000 square feet of indoor space, we have tons of room for social distancing.”

Tulip Town will require online ticketing and reservations. Miller said the plan is to sell tickets in four three-hour blocks and guests can select the day and block of time they expect to be on the farm.

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He said the farm is offering new activities, including a photography pass to photograph the fields at sunrise and sunset and an experience pass for visitors to take a mini-workshop and cut their own tulips.

Roozengaarde also plans to open at reduced capacity for the festival, and may require advanced reservations through timed ticketing, according to a statement on the company’s website.

Grower Brent Roozen said Thursday the farm was taking it day by day and still figuring out the details.

“If there are restrictions in place, we will do our best to be flexible and to share the bloom with as many people as possible,” he said.

In a statement, Skagit County Public Health said if growers have questions or need help interpreting the guidance, they should reach out to Public Health.

“To help support our businesses through tulip season, we also encourage individuals to do their part,” Public Health said in its statement. “Wear your mask, keep socially distant from those you don’t live with, practice good hand hygiene and please, please stay home if you don’t feel well.”

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Festival events

Much is still up in the air with the events surrounding the festival.

The Tulip Festival gala will be virtual. Verge said the Tulip Parade in La Conner is moving forward in a drive-thru format.

She said the Tulip Pedal Bike Ride is also planned to be held, although the organization’s website states that the event is awaiting approval from Skagit County. Verge said Schuh Farms and Christianson’s Nursery are planning to host art shows.

Both the Kiwanis Club Salmon BBQ and PACCAR Technical Center open house have been canceled again, Verge said.

The Mount Vernon Downtown Association made the decision on Friday to cancel the Tulip Festival Street Fair for the second year in a row.

Downtown association Executive Director Ellen Gamson said it would have been impossible to limit attendance to 200 people at a time, which is required for outdoor retail events during Phase 2 of Inslee’s Healthy Washington plan.

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“There would be no way given the history of the event to manage crowds gathering,” she said. “My expectation is people are so eager to get outside and to do things from before that we would have had a really good turnout.”

Instead, the downtown association is planning a new event called the Harvest Festival Street Fair the first week of October, to coincide with the Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms. The hope is that COVID-19 will be more under control by then.

“We are eager and excited for a fall event,” Gamson said.