Big Bear is a tourist town, and it has been that way for decades. Visitors come to the mountains to enjoy clean air, blue skies, nature and so much more.
For the past 20-some years, Big Bear has sought to draw more visitors to the community through events. From cycling events and car shows to Oktoberfest and a winter holiday celebration, the events have grown to fill every weekend and in some cases the midweek days between. Summer and fall are the busiest for events. Until COVID-19.
The coronavirus has led to the cancellation, postponement and rescheduling of events planned for Big Bear until at least June, and several beyond that. Rick Bates, who is the events coordinator for the city of Big Bear Lake and has organized events in coordination Visit Big Bear and the Chamber of Commerce, said all city of Big Bear Lake sponsored or supported events have been canceled through June 1. Additionally, the Grill N Chill, Chili Cook-off, Music in the Mountains and the Renaissance Faire have been canceled for this year. On May 12, the Big Bear Lake Antique Car Club announced the annual Fun Run scheduled for the first weekend in August will not take place in 2020.
The Spartan Race planned for May was cancelled early on. Bates said there are a lot of conversations happening in relation to events and when and if they will happen in Big Bear this year.
Some organizers are getting creative, he said. The Kodiak 100 for example is looking at a way to hold the race maybe over the course of seven days, Bates said. Downhill mountain bike races since they send bikers one at a time on the course could possibly take place, he said.
The free admission events are much more difficult because there is no control over the number of people in attendance, Bates said. In addition to the participants, there are thousands of spectators all wandering around.
Competitive events, where people have to register or events that require a ticket for admission can be controlled in terms of attendance.
Right now it’s like a big chess game, Bates said. He is constantly moving pieces as organizers either cancel or reschedule. Some are rescheduling without consideration or knowledge of other dates and the impact of possible other events that might still be scheduled.
Case in point is the Tour de Big Bear originally scheduled for the first weekend in August. Organizers planned to reschedule the cycling event to Sept. 26, Bates said. But, the Jeep Jamboree moved its event to Sept. 26, he said. The Jeep event is actually stationed at Snow Valley Resort but check-in is at the Elks Lodge in Big Bear Lake.
When the Jeep Jamboree moved its date, Tour de Big Bear chose to reschedule its event to Sept. 19. That is also the same weekend the September Wine Walk and Hot Dawgz and Hand Rails are scheduled, Bates said. Neither of those events have been canceled as of yet.
As of now, the Fishin’ for 50K is still on, Bates said of the Visit Big Bear sponsored event. It is scheduled for June 6 and 7. Registration would be done online and the number of people on boats would be limited in line with regulations set out by the Big Bear Municipal Water District. There would not be an awards ceremony.
Bates said the fishing tournament was originally designed to grow tourism during a slow period. But with no lodging allowed as yet, the tournament could be challenging, he said.
Bates said the most of the large events have been canceled or postponed for the June, July and August time period, and September is still an unknown. He favors marketing the activities available in Big Bear, and studies have shown that the activities bring just as many visitors to the Valley as the events. Specific events are a one-chance shot at attracting visitors on a specific date or weekend. But many activities are leveraged around the events such as cycling and mountain biking that encourage return visits outside the event, Bates said.
The main draw for summer visitors are the July 4 fireworks. With July 4 falling on a Saturday in 2020, Big Bear merchants were looking forward to the throng of visitors expected to fill the Valley’s hotels, rental homes, shops and restaurants.
The annual fireworks show may or may not occur on July 4. While many in Big Bear are holding out hope for a July 4 show, the city of Big Bear Lake and Visit Big Bear have negotiated a deal with the pyrotechnic company to hold the show anytime between July 4 and Oct. 31. The two agencies are footing the bill for the fireworks show.
Big Bear Lake Mayor Rick Herrick signed a letter sent to Governor Gavin Newsom on May 13 asking the governor to consider flexibility in allowing the city of Big Bear Lake to make local decisions in regard to re-opening. The plan for opening businesses approved by the City Council May 11 accompanied the letter.
San Bernardino County sent a similar letter in a joint effort with Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties. The county’s recovery plan was also delivered to the governor.