A group has been working behind the scenes in Pine River since June to find some way to salvage the year disrupted by COVID-19, including cancellation of the annual Heritage Days events held in September.

On Saturday, Sept. 26, all of their work will come to fruition with Pine River's first Fall Festival.

"We're hoping this event will be an opportunity for businesses in the area to make up for some lost income," said Sharon Gensmer, acting chair of the event committee. "But we also asked them to provide something cheap or free for the public to enjoy."

Events throughout town will be simple, like photo opportunities with a backdrop of hay bales, vendors, food and activities.

"I know Cozy Cottage is joining us to open up for business that day and offer some sort of food fair," Gensmer said.

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The group received permission from the city to close part of Second Street for vendors and food sales, but the event will have activities spanning most of the city, including the Dam Park, the parking lot across from the information center, the Cass County Fairgrounds and the Pine River-Backus School property.

"We were recently approached by the Pine River-Backus School who wanted to use the event as an opportunity to do something for various student groups at the Pine River-Backus School," Gensmer said. "So they have a drive-in movie in the works, which is really a part of our original plan. They are also sponsoring a 5K run."

Events will start with Yoga at the Park at 8 a.m., a free public class. Vendors will be present in town throughout the day. Gensmer said some vendors will be located on Second Street, with vendors who would traditionally participate in Arts Off 84 - the annual Labor Day weekend art crawl that was canceled - seizing the opportunity to show their wares in the parking lot across from the Pine River Information Center.

Other groups are also getting involved.

"Heritage Group North will be doing old-time photo sessions at the depot," Gensmer said. "And The Warehouse has offered their parking lot for kids games."

Paws and Claws Animal Rescue and Resort will be present at the event. Gensmer said they had considered either doing pet adoptions or pet chipping.

Live music will be performed at the park, where there will be food trucks. At 6 p.m., biodegradable "lanterns of hope" will be lit and placed in the river (where they will be picked up farther down river).

After dark, a viewing of "Tall Tales" will commence at the school. The film was chosen to celebrate the area's heritage.

For those who are behaving cautiously amid the pandemic, organizers have planned precautions and mask themed competitions.

""We're going to do a mask contest," Gensmer said. "We want people to respect all guidelines, and anyone who wants to enter the mask contest that day is encouraged to do that."

Event organizers encourage all participants to follow guidelines for outdoor gatherings and will provide sanitation stations. These stations will be found in 12 or more locations throughout the day stocked with sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizers, gloves, masks and an event map. Volunteers have been assigned to sanitize all of the kids attractions between use. Organizers are planning for many precautions.

"If people would prefer to have their children wear gloves while playing games, whether it's a football toss or whatever, we do have intentions of doing this according to COVID guidelines," Gensmer said.

Many who missed out with all of the canceled events this summer are getting together to make this outdoor event huge.

"We've been long overdue for a little bit of fun in this town," Gensmer said.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.