Navigating through the pandemicDec 31, 2020 12:14PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
On June 20, Cecil County Tourism sponsored the Ike Foundation’s 5th annual Celebrity Pro-Am Fishing Tournament at the Anchor Marina in the Upper Bay of North East.
Despite the rain, the fish were biting, and 260 anglers on 130 boats competed for prizes. It was the largest collection of boats in the tournament’s history, which was made more significant because it was the first time the event had been held in Cecil County.
Perhaps even more important, the tournament was a success despite the ominous cloud of a global pandemic that has hung over the normally bustling industry of tourism in Cecil County for the past several months.
Throughout the year, the reasons to visit Cecil County remain so numerous that they absolutely burst at the seams. The adventurous explore the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay at Elk Neck State Park. The curious learn about diverse and unique species at the Plumpton Park Zoo. The explorers hop in a canoe to float along the Elk, Northeast, Susquehanna, Sassafras, and Bohemia rivers. The moms and dads and kids rejoice in the feeling of holding a freshly-picked summer fruit at Milburn Orchards, and the hungry and the thirsty crowd the restaurants and cafes in Chesapeake City, North East and Port Deposit.
Tourism in Cecil County celebrates a widespread panorama of activities, history and destinations, but like every other agency of its kind in the United States, the Office of Cecil County Tourism has been forced to creatively navigate the pandemic that began soon after COVID-19 arrived.
They began the same way that other tourism departments had done – rely on the power of the message and funnel the message through the internet. Soon, the Cecil County Tourism page was filled with “Buy & Eat Local” information, weekly fun puzzles that when put together revealed beautiful Cecil County photos, and a “Cecil Eats” contest. It offered “Time Travel Thursdays” which shared weekly tidbits of Cecil County history.
Its “Foodie Fridays” continued to celebrate the local cuisine.
“Creativity was the key,” said Cecil County Tourism Manager Sandy Maruchi-Turner. “We had a number of brainstorming sessions where we asked, ‘What are we going to do, how are we going to do it and how will we continue to help our business community?’ We felt that the immediate need at the time was to provide messaging to remind local residents to continue to support their restaurants and their shops that were limited to doing take-out, online orders and curbside deliveries. We tried to connect people with businesses for a number of weeks and keep them up to date.”
Maruchi-Turner said that even before the pandemic hit, the Cecil County Office of Tourism had already begun to lay the groundwork to expand the Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway and designate it as an All-American Road -- the northern gateway of which is at the intersection of Route 285 and Route 213 in North Chesapeake City. To do so, the office entered into a partnership with Eastern Shore of Maryland tourism offices, Eastern Shore heritage areas, and the State Office of Tourism to embark on a joint application to the Federal Scenic Byway program. They’ll learn in September whether they receive the prestigious All-American Road designation.
“The All-American Road application wouldn’t have happened without close partnership of multiple jurisdictions and organizations,” Maruchi-Turner said. “The COVID 19 pandemic has created increased demand for scenic byways across the country with people traveling less by air and more by road trips, so the virus gave this project new meaning.”
No amount of creativity or long-range planning, however, could stop the pandemic from canceling several of the county’s most anticipated events of this and any year. Most May, June and July events were removed from the calendar, and the list goes on. In August, the Lotus Blossom Festival in Mt. Harmon, the Lions Antique Car Show in Chesapeake City, the Waterfront Festival in Perryville, Elkton Classic Car Shows and Elkton First Fridays will all be canceled. The Elkton Fall Fest and various car shows, all scheduled for September, will also be postponed for 2020, and in October, The Maryland 5 Star equestrian event at Fair Hill will be canceled, as will the Upper Bay Decoy Show.
‘Roadmap of hope’
At a press conference on May 13, the door to the reopening of Maryland and, subsequently, the state’s tourism industry arrived, when Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the state would move from a “stay at home order” to a “safer at home” advisory.
To many businesses and agencies, Gov. Hogan’s “Stage One Recovery” served as a roadmap of hope that reopened retail businesses at 50 percent capacity, as well as the reopening of some personal services, small businesses and boating, fishing, outdoor dining and shopping.
To many residents of Cecil County – as well as those from nearby states who use the county for recreation – the very cautious and delicate loosening of the restrictions that had shut much of the state for the past several months was a much needed relief.
“After being cooped up and having cabin fever, people were craving outdoor experiences,” Maruchi-Turner said. “As outdoor activities in Maryland started opening, we touted our trails and waterways. We put the spotlight on our waterfront parks, walking paths, fresh air, and beautiful sunsets. We encouraged casting a line to nab a catch, and shared thematic information such as “Picnic & Paddle” and “Family & Farm Fun.”
“As additional opening is unfolding, we’re shifting to the celebration of quirky national days and how they relate to Cecil County, such as National Fried Chicken Day, National Father and Daughter Take a Walk Day, All American Pet Photo Day, National Cow Appreciation Day, and more.”
Maruchi-Turner said that a big bonus of the county’s tourism is in its reasonable proximity to nearby Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Washington, D.C.
“We have great parks, waterways, and over 200 miles of shoreline,” she said. “We have outdoor destinations where social distancing can easily be achieved. This has helped bring back long time visitors, and has attracted new ones.”
If the green light is back on for tourism in Cecil County, it is at best a blinking green light, one that will be measured event by event and visitor by visitor, and one that will be dotted with cautious optimism.
“Because none of us have ever dealt with this virus before, we don’t yet know what it’s going to do, so therefore, we can’t just assume that we should leave it in our rear-view mirror,” Maruchi-Turner said. “Working together will be the key to maneuvering successfully through unprecedented times. We’ve stayed in close contact with our tourism industry businesses to stay in tune with issues and concerns. The tourism offices throughout the state continue to work closely together as a team.
“As we move forward in Cecil County, that team work will become more critical than ever.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].
photos courtesy of the Cecil County Office of Tourism
Fall/Winter Events in Cecil County
Due to COVID-19, the following scheduled events are subject to change or be cancelled. Please visit the listed websites for up-to-date information. To learn more about Cecil County Tourism, visit www.ccgov.org/government/tourism
August Sundays, 6 to 8 p.m. – Summer Music in the Park, Pell Gardens, Chesapeake City, www.chesapeakecity.com
August Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m. – The Hub Farmer’s Market at the Broken Spoke Winery, Earleville, www.brokenspokewinery.com
August 1 – Caribbean Wine Splash at the Dove Valley Vineyard, Rising Sun, www.dovevalleywine.com
August 8 – Peach Harvest Party at Milburn Orchards, Elkton, www.milburnorchards.com
August 21, 22, 23 – Super Games at OXCC Paintball, Chesapeake City, www.oxcc.com
August 22 – Rockin’ Raspberry Harvest Party at Milburn Orchards, Elkton, www.milburnorchards.com
Beginning Labor Day Weekend, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- “You-Pick Apples” at Milburn Orchards, Elkton, www.milburnorchards.com
September Sundays, from 1 to 4 p.m. – The Hub Farmer’s Market, Broken Spoke Winery, www.brokenspokewinery.com
September 4-6 – Yellowbullet Nationals at the Cecil County Dragway, Rising Sun, www.cecilcountydragway.com
September 5 – Fireworks on the Canal in Chesapeake City, www.chespaeakecity.com
September 12, 3 to 7 p.m. – Tap Into The Tavern / Beer & Wine Festival at Historic Rodgers Tavern, Perryville, www.perryvillemd.org
September 26 – Brew at the Zoo at Plumpton Park Zoo, Rising Sun, www.plumptonparkzoo.org
September 27, 1 to 3 p.m. – Sinatra in the Park at Historic Rodgers Tavern, Perryville, www.perryvillemd.org
Weekends from September 27 to November 2 – OXCC Paintball at Zombie Park, Chesapeake City, www.oxcc.com
Friday and Saturday Nights in October – Zombies at the Zoo at Plumpton Park Zoo, Rising Sun, www.plumptonparkzoo.com
October 10, 5 to 9 p.m. – Bull & Oyster Roast at Historic Mt. Harmon Plantation, Earleville, www.mountharmon.org
October 24 & 25, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Colonial Festival & Market Faire at Mt. Harmon Plantation, Earleville, www.mountharmon.org
December 5, 12 p.m. – Cecil County Christmas Parade in North East, www.northeastmd.org
December 5 – Poplar Hall Christmas Village in Chesapeake City, www.chesapeakecity.com
December 5 & 6, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. – Yuletide Festival at Mt. Harmon Plantation, Earleville, www.mountharmon.org
December 12, 6 p.m. – Candlelight Tour at Historic S. Chesapeake City, www.chesapeakecity.org