MOORHEAD — In any other year, the lawns outside the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County would be packed with people this weekend for the annual Scandinavian Hjemkomst & Midwest Viking Festival.
While few things stopped the Vikings, the coronavirus outbreak led to canceling this year’s Nordic celebration.
While there’s no festival this weekend, the Hjemkomst Center won’t be quiet. The Moorhead landmark, 202 First Ave. N., reopened on June 15 after being closed for three months. Shortly after opening its doors at noon that day, the first visitors came in.
“We were delighted,” says Maureen Kelly Jonason, HCSCC's executive director. “There are still people out there going through with travel plans. We’re just thrilled that people are coming.”
The three-month shutdown hurt the HCSCC’s attendance, and canceling the Viking Fest, the organization’s largest annual draw, will further lower those numbers. Still, Jonason points out that the event is expensive to produce so the loss will be minimal, financially speaking.
Facility rentals, for things like weddings and meetings, are run through the city of Moorhead and don’t directly affect the HCSCC.
About 15 percent of the HCSCC’s annual budget is generated from admission, with about half of the visitors coming from May through August, though Jonason says the real peak of summer starts around the beginning of July.
“We’re optimistic. Right now, people are just starting to come out of the woodwork,” she says.
Last Friday, June 19, the HCSCC had 50 visitors, and another 40 came on Saturday, both right around the average for this time of year.
While the Viking Fest was scrapped this year, Jonason says there are plenty of other attractions for visitors to check out, like “War, Flu, & Fear: World War I and Clay County” and Red River Watercolor Society's 2020 National Juried Watermedia Exhibition.
Still, she says the biggest draws in the summer are the permanent attractions, the Hjemkomst Viking ship and the Hopperstad Stave Church.
While volunteers are typically the faces at the front of the organization, they won’t be allowed to return to work until at least August due to continued concerns over the coronavirus. Instead, full-time HCSCC staffers take turns working the front desk and gift shop and offering guided tours.
All HCSCC staff and visitors are asked to wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines that limit household groups to six, and limit the number of people in different spaces at a time.
Not knowing how long COVID-19 will be a threat, Jonason says she is going ahead with most pre-pandemic plans. She’s looking forward to the opening of "Quilt National ’19," the popular, touring annual fiber arts show. Initially scheduled to start July 1, it’s been pushed back to July 22 as new lights will be installed in Heritage Hall.
This year’s Pangea, the annual world cultural celebration scheduled for November, has also been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
Jonason says the loss of two big events like the Viking Fest and Pangea, coupled with the extended closure, will be “rough,” but adds that the HCSCC started the year with a surplus budget.
“You really have to take things day by day and let go of the things you can’t control,” she says.