A Different Summer

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of the Riverboat Days fireworks display (shown), while Yankton’s Fourth of July display may be rescheduled later in the summer.

In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, organizers of summer events in Yankton and the surrounding area have to make adjustments.

Some have postponed their events, while others have canceled entirely. Still others have decided to move forward.

Either way, they’ve been difficult decisions to make, according to Julie Amsberry, executive director of Yankton Area Arts (YAA).

“In this moment in history, everyone is learning to be really flexible with plans and events,” she said. “Unfortunately, many of our events are built around community and being together.”

One of YAA’s main events of the summer is the Summer Arts Festival, which is held in conjunction with Riverboat Days — the organizers of which announced Friday the cancellation of its annual August festival.

Other summer events in Yankton such as the Fourth of July fireworks show and Ribfest have been postponed.

In the end, safety is the top priority for event organizers, according to Brittany LaCroix, events & promotions coordinator for the City of Yankton.

“With the weather getting nicer and summer close on the horizon, we know and understand the community is eager to get out and get back to normal, but right now we want to respect our health care in our community and do what we can to help minimize the impact on their facilities,” LaCroix said.

Here is a look at the fate of other summer events — some that have had to make changes and others that are still moving forward — in Yankton and the surrounding area:


Yankton’s annual Fourth of July fireworks show has been postponed, according to LaCroix.

A new date has not been set, but city officials are working with the pyrotechnics company to select a date.

LaCroix said an article she recently read said one can think of transmission risk with a simple phrase: “Time, space, people, place,” and that helps validate the decision to postpone.

According to LaCroix:

1. The fireworks display occurs right after or during the estimated peak number of cases;

2. Thousands of people come from surrounding areas to gather in Riverside Park;

3. The space available for the community to gather is not more than a two-mile stretch; and

4. Social distancing is not something officials can enforce at this type of an event.

“It’s another really hard decision to make, especially when it’s a tradition in our community,” LaCroix said. “It’s not a decision that was made lightly or easily. But again, with any of our events, we have to keep the best interest of our community at the base of our decisions, and a gathering of this size so soon is just not a smart decision.”


A number of summer events hosted by Yankton Area Arts have been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Amsberry said.

The Kids Art Fest (June 2) has been postponed to a later date, while the Summer Concert Series with the Yankton Area Summer Band in June has been canceled. Amsberry said a decision will be made in a few weeks about the concerts later in the summer.

In addition, the YAA gallery remains closed until further notice.

One of the YAA’s main events is the Summer Arts Festival, which is held in conjunction with the annual Riverboat Days celebration at Riverside Park. Amsberry said YAA is considering options for a virtual festival.

Virtual is the route YAA has also chosen for its annual Meridian en Blanc fundraiser on July 18, according to Amsberry. Participants can purchase tickets and then do a “drive-through” to pick up their picnic baskets filled with food and drink. YAA will then communicate with them throughout the evening with items such as a private virtual concert, as well as games and contests.

“Because we aren’t on the bridge this year, we don’t have to limit the number of tickets we sell so we’re hoping it can make up for some of our lost revenue this spring and summer,” Amsberry said.

Despite its events being affected by the pandemic, YAA is fortunate to have the support of the state arts council, she added.

“They have been working hard to support organizations like ours by restructuring parameters for the Touring Artists program which will allow YAA to offer opportunities to our community,” Amsberry said.


The first three weeks of a summer concert series that has become a popular gathering place on Thursday nights in July and August at “The Lawn” near Meridian Bridge have been canceled.

The series — entering its fifth year — will begin on July 23 and run through Aug. 27, as long as the number of active COVID cases remain mild in the Yankton area,  LaCroix said.

“It is never easy to cancel an event in the community, but we want to keep the best interest of our community members and concert goers in the front of our decisions,” she said. “We are working with bands that we have canceled to reschedule or bring them back for another event or for next year’s concert series.”

Organized by the City of Yankton, Music at the Meridian brings in regional, national and even international bands that offer unique genres for a casual, relaxing night overlooking the Missouri River, according to LaCroix.

Since its first year, the event has grown to include local food trucks, Ben’s Brewing Company and a community mural. This year is set to have local talent open up for the main acts, she added.

LaCroix also said officials are making plans to ensure that the concert series follows CDC guidelines for the event, such as the addition of hand washing stations.


According to Shane Bertsch, the district park supervisor with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department, there were a record number of campers and visitors during April. He also predicts that May will see record numbers.

He said all of the campsites were full over Memorial Day weekend in the park district, which includes: Clay County Park, Springfield Recreation Area, Chief White Crane Recreation Area, Pierson Ranch Recreation Area and Lewis & Clark Recreation Area.

“Day use on Saturday over the weekend was one of the busiest on a Memorial Day weekend that park staff can remember,” Bertsch said.

Camping was up 138% with a total of 1,312 district camping units (one-night stay in a camper, tent or cabin) in April, according to Bertsch. Visitation was up 108% with a total of 93,495 visitors.

All of the comfort stations (shower houses) were opened for public use on May 15, and on May 18, the grace period of the “no entrance fee” requirement ended and the park’s Welcome Center opened for the season, according to Bertsch.

“We want to remind folks to either stop in at the Welcome Center or use one of the self-pay stations to pay to get a day pass or an annual park license,” he said.

To ensure safety, park staff has placed Plexiglas screens in the Welcome Center, and gate attendants will be wearing masks when assisting the public, he said.

The decision has been made to cancel park programming in district parks for the summer, he added.

“The main reason is that we don’t want to promote the gathering of large groups due to COVID-19,” Bertsch said. “We want visitors to practice social distancing when they are using the parks.”

Across the border, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission will open more camping opportunities in state park areas starting June 4, when all previous temporary restrictions on recreational vehicle and tent camping will be removed. Designated beaches and swimming areas will also open June 4.


The 2020 Yankton Ribfest, which was scheduled for June 13 in downtown Yankton, has been postponed to some point this fall, according to organizers.

“With everything going on and all the cancellations, we thought postponing would be the best thing for the community,” organizer Jeff Dayhuff previously told the Press & Dakotan. “We are going to try to have it in the fall, but we don’t have a date picked out. We are just going to try to play it by ear.”


The NFAA Easton Yankton Archery Center will begin summer programs on June 1. Those classes include: Intro to Archery, Field Archery, Advanced Field Archery, Explore Bowhunting, Intermediate Youth Day Camp, Super Girl Day Camp, Outdoor Adventure Day Camp, Intro to Tennis and Intro to Air Rifle.

Participants may choose to bring their own equipment or use the center’s at no additional cost. Students taking the Super Girl Day Camp and the Outdoor Adventure Day Camp will need to bring a sack lunch. Registration works on a first-come, first serve basis.

Social distancing guidelines from the CDC have been put in place and will be followed, according to center officials. Class sizes are limited to 10 participants, with the exception of Air Rifle being limited to five. More information and registration can be found at neyac.org/summer-programs.


The Southeast South Dakota Tourism Association (SSDTA) unveiled a “Don’t Dream It, Win It” kayak giveaway contest as a tie-in to National Travel and Tourism Week that was held in early May.

The contest will be open for registration from May 1-June 22, after which the SSDTA will choose and contact the winner.

“Outdoor recreation is a major draw here, and a majority of travelers to South Dakota come through the Southeast,” SSDTA Executive Director Gary Keller said. “So we are giving away our brand new SSDTA-logo’d kayak to a winner 21 years of age or older who plans to visit Southeast South Dakota between June 29 and Dec. 8, 2020.”

Details, official rules and a registration form can be found at southeastsouthdakota.com.


Committee members for the Crofton Dam Race are hopeful that the triathlon, half-marathon and bike race can still take place July 25 at the Lewis & Clark Recreation Area in Nebraska.

“From its introduction three years ago, the number-one priority for the race has been safety,” said Heidi Marsh, race committee chair. “Safety just took on a whole new meaning this year.”

On June 15, the committee will make the final decision whether or not to hold the event.

The Dam Race will begin with a 1.5-mile kayak on Lewis & Clark Lake from the Weigand swim beach, followed by a 5K run on paved trails through the campground, and finish with a 12-mile bike ride into main street Crofton, Nebraska. Additional events include a half marathon and 12-mile bike ride.

For more information, contact Johnnie Ostermeyer at (402) 508-0224 or Heidi Marsh at (605) 660-4498.


• Czech Days in Tabor and Kolach Days in Verdigre, Nebraska, have both been canceled.

• The two-day Tri-State Old Iron Ride, scheduled for July 9-11 with a parade through downtown Yankton, has been canceled. The 2021 ride will be held July 8-10.

• The South Dakota Chislic Festival in Freeman has been canceled.

• Schuetzenfest, a festival held every five years in Bow Valley, Nebraska, has been delayed until July 31 and Aug. 1, 2021.

• Rodeos in Irene and Ponca, Nebraska, were both canceled. The Scottie Stampede rodeo in Scotland, meanwhile, announced in mid-May that it plans to move forward with its event Aug. 8-9.


Follow the Press & Dakotan for more updates on events and activities throughout the summer.

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