By MADDY VITALE
Miles of shoreline, the Boardwalk, shops and eateries continue to attract visitors to Ocean City – even during the pandemic.
And a lineup of special family-friendly events for 2021 will serve as another major attraction, as long as the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t force their cancellation.
They will include mega-shopping spree block parties, concerts, shows, parades and “Wacky Wednesdays” where kids make art out of French fries and have pie-eating contests.
The city’s costumed mascots, Martin Z. Mollusk and his wife, Mollie, will let the tourists and residents know if summer will come early in a zany display on the beach.
City officials caution that while the long list of events and entertainment are on the city’s website at ocnj.us, it does not necessarily mean that they will take place.
The events are tentative and are subject to change or cancellation amid the pandemic.
“I can’t speculate on the future of the pandemic, but the city certainly hopes to hold as many of these events as possible,” Ocean City Public Information Officer Doug Bergen said.
He continued, “We will make modifications whenever we can to preserve these traditions while keeping everybody healthy and safe – as with Monday’s virtual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Ceremony.”
While navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, city officials are continuing to assess what events could be held, how some could be changed to still be able to offer them and how some things are on a wait-and-see basis.
Some events may be virtual, as was the case with Martin Z. Mollusk Day last year and the Easter Stroll
The 2021 lineup is reminiscent of 2019’s calendar of events and the ones before that.
But 2020’s list was short, with cancellations of most and alternative programs and virtual events to replace the traditional ones.
Bergen explained that the city’s events calendar is distributed at the beginning of every year to help people plan.
But that does not mean that the events will still occur, he stressed.
“Executive orders from the governor currently prohibit large-scale indoor and outdoor gatherings, and the calendar posting speaks for itself: All 2021 events are temporarily suspended due to public health restrictions,” Bergen noted.
Ocean City Community Services Director Daniel Kelchner said city officials are “weighing” all of their options for how they will offer events this year.
He noted that virtual events will certainly be under consideration.
But like Bergen, Kelchner pointed out that it is too early to tell exactly what the city will do.
“There are too many variables in play for a single Plan B, but we are open to a variety of options and we will evaluate each event based on the executive orders, CDC guidelines, and local trends leading up to each event,” he said.
Many of the events in 2020 were canceled due to the governor’s restrictions on crowds.
One of the popular events canceled last year was the Great Egg Hunt. Thousands upon thousands of plastic pastel-colored eggs filled with toys and candy cover several of the beaches.
City officials section the beaches off so that children of the same ages do their own Easter Egg Hunt. The event brings throngs of people to the Boardwalk and beach.
Outdoor activities such as the Great Egg Hunt may be held this year, but only time will tell in the fluid situation amid the pandemic, officials said.
In fact, holding the Great Egg Hunt this year is among the spring events that city officials are currently discussing.
“We will make decisions on the early spring events, such as the Great Egg Hunt, after February 1,” Kelchner explained. “Hopefully, the vaccine is more widely distributed and we are able to get a better read on local COVID trends and the feasibility of having those first few events.”
Above all else, the health and safety of the city’s residents and visitors are paramount, he said.
Kelchner added, “We will not hold events if it puts our community at risk. Public health is priority number one.”