Riverboat Days Canceled For 2020

Giant bubbles were part of the family fun at last year’s Riverboat Days celebration in Yankton. This year’s annual event has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced yet another tough decision for one of the area’s premier events.

Riverboat Days and the Summer Arts Festival, which had been set for Aug. 21-23 in Yankton, will not be occurring in 2020.

Riverboat Days co-chair John Kraft confirmed to the Press & Dakotan Friday that, after much deliberation, his committee, along with the board of directors for Yankton Area Arts, have opted not to hold the annual festival this year due to the ongoing pandemic.

“It was definitely a tough decision for the board to make,” Kraft said. “The last few weeks, they’ve been watching the COVID numbers as well as consulting with local officials to try and come up with a plan that would make it possible for us to have the event.”

However, with the pandemic continuing to spread and casting so many unknowns over the late summer, Kraft said the situation became unfeasible.

“As we got further into it, it just became apparent that it wasn’t going to be possible for us to put on an event where we could potentially have a large crowd of people and ensure their safety,” he said. “It’s for the safety of our community and our vendors. We just want everyone to be safe and be able to come back and celebrate with us next year.”

He said that the Yankton Area Arts Board of Directors was also involved in the decision to cancel the event.

Riverboat Days has been held in Yankton every year since 1984. It now annually draws an estimated 100,000 people.

It is one of a number of local summer events that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Market at the Meridian has introduced online ordering and curbside services. Yankton Ribfest, which had been scheduled for mid-June, has been postponed until at least the fall. Yankton Area Arts’ Meridian En Blanc has been changed to a digital event. Yankton’s Fourth of July fireworks will be held at a later date. In April, it was announced the Extreme Bull Riding Tour event that typically coincides with Riverboat Days was canceled.

Mayor Nathan Johnson told the Press & Dakotan that the cancellation of Riverboat Days is the loss of one of the most vital staples to the community’s culture.  

“I know how hard it must have been for the Riverboat Days Board of Directors and the Yankton Area Arts Board of Directors to make this decision,” Johnson said. “Since its inception in 1984, the Yankton Riverboat Days and Summer Arts Festival has grown into the community’s signature event. It’s a time when family and friends gather — and tens of thousands of visitors come to Yankton because of the special atmosphere these two organizations create for everyone to enjoy. It is a true community celebration and brings with it a huge economic impact on Yankton.”

He added that the decision is ultimately the correct one.

“While we will all miss the events, food, art and opportunity to gather that Riverboat Days would have brought to Yankton this year, I believe they have done the right thing,” he said. “Holding an event of this size during the COVID-19 pandemic presents huge obstacles and potential risks. This decision reflects what we’ve always known about these boards — their deep care for those who attend the event and for the community of Yankton.”

Kraft said scaled-back versions of the event had been contemplated, and that while Riverboat Days as we know it is canceled, the door hasn’t been completely shut on hosting some sort of fall celebration, should the health and logistics situation allow.  

“It’s been discussed between a few different groups,” he said. “It’s not necessarily out of the (realm of) possibility that — if by fall, things look like they’re in a little bit better shape — the Riverboat Days Committee would be more than willing to help participate in putting on some kind of an event for the city in partnership with other organizers if the health situation is in a little bit better shape. I think we’re all open for that. But as far as having a full-scale Riverboat Days and trying to pull off a big event like that, we just didn’t feel it was appropriate given the circumstances.”

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