YARDLEY BOROUGH >> Hand-carved, flickering Jack-O-Lanterns won’t be lining the Delaware Canal’s Towpath this fall due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
In a social media posting, Experience Yardley has announced the cancellation of Canal-O-Ween for 2020.
The annual fall event, which has drawn between 20,000 and 40,000 people to town over the past three to four years, is a week-long event highlighted by a community carve-o-thon and a public stroll among candle-lit Jack-O-Lanterns lining the canal along Edgewater Avenue between East Afton Avenue and the Mary Yardley Footbridge.
“After much thoughtful analysis, hard decision-making and sad emotions, Experience Yardley has decided that this year there can be no Carve-O-Thon or Jack-O-Lantern Stroll for Canal-O-Ween week,” read the posting.
“The need to protect public safety and health in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic far outweighs having a 12th year in a row of the event.”
Jef Buehler, from Experience Yardley, said the board “is very disappointed. I, as the founder of the event, am extremely saddened by the decision, but more-so the need to even have to make it.”
However, he said, the volunteers that run Experience Yardley and Canal-O-Ween “care about the well-being of our community at large and especially the neighborhood where the event occurs.
“It takes many thousands of dollars of pre-coordinated sponsorships, the work of more 90 volunteers and partner organizations, and 300 hours of planning each year to make Canal-O-Ween happen,” explains Buehler of the reason for cancelling the event now. “This is not something that a person can just whip up in their driveway in 48 hours (to be fair, that was what I did to start it all in 2009) and then cancel at the last minute if COVID cases suddenly grew in our area.”
The fact is, said Buehler, that the past three to four years have drawn between 20,000 and 40,000 participants over the seven days of Canal-O-Ween. “And our peak Jack-O-Lantern Stroll hours have the entire 1/3 of a mile of the event fully packed, shoulder to shoulder.
“Yes, the Stroll is outside, but imagine being a resident there, with no way to get in or out of your home and thousands of people who may or may not be wearing masks, asymptomatic, or even symptomatic walking 20 feet from your front door and literally right on the edge of your front yard,” he said. “Imagine if that resident is elderly or in some other high-risk category.
“Experience Yardley imagined that, and that's just one reason why we called 2020 Canal-O-Ween off,” said Buehler. “And imagine the financial liability our small non-profit and Board members would face if Canal-O-Ween became a super-spreader event.
“Who would ensure that thousands of people coming from a 100-mile radius would sign waivers to hold Experience Yardley harmless,” asks Buehler. “How could the Yardley Borough Police Department manage crowd control without putting themselves at even more risk for seven nights in a row? Would Canal-O-Ween volunteers want to be out there potentially exposing themselves and their families to severe illness, even for something that they, and we, love immensely?
“We are in a pandemic in the United States. That is a fact,” continued Buehler. “The normal of last year's Canal-O-Ween and the prior 11 years is simply not our present reality. We didn't call off Canal-O-Ween because we worried that people would not come. We cancelled it because we worried that people would come,” he said. “And that is a decision based on science and our desire to mitigate the spread of a lethal disease.
“Experience Yardley truly hopes that Canal-O-Ween will be back safely in 2021 and will be working to ensure that it be even more special than usual."
Since 2009 organizers have always said that nothing stops Canal-O-Ween - rain, snow, hurricanes, mud, cold, heat, power outages, etc. And it never has - until now.
“But this is different,” said Buehler. “This is not a question of people getting covered in mud, or getting numb fingers from freezing temperatures. And we want to be part of the solution.
“This pandemic is real and continues to cause great suffering, loss of life and jobs, and immense stress. Each year, Canal-O-Ween has been drawing thousands of people over seven days in a compact space on a neighborhood street, which is normally an amazing thing and a normal part of our and your lives.
“But 2020 is the furthest thing from normal, and science and facts tell us that this wonderful event simply can't happen as a result.
“To that end we hope that this fall you will keep the sprit and intent of Canal-O-Ween alive in your homes and in a safe way,” said Buehler. “Later, we will be asking for you to post photos and videos of you carving pumpkins and of the Jack-O-Lanterns that result!”