MINNEAPOLIS -- It remains to be seen how fishing and hunting in the outdoors of Minnesota will be affected by the spread of COVID-19, but the outbreak is already disrupting sports shows and spoiling the spring banquet season critical to fundraising by conservation groups.
Even before the Minnesota Department of Health on Friday called on event organizers to cancel or postpone gatherings with 250 or more people, the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo canceled its annual three-day show at Hamline University Walker Fieldhouse. Another sports show, the Outdoor News Deer and Turkey Classic, opened Friday as planned at Canterbury Park in Shakopee but then closed for Saturday and Sunday.
Eric Meyer, show manager, said vendors for the three-day show started setting up on Thursday, before the Department of Health toughened its guidelines on large gatherings.
"We're going to continue on," Meyer said on Thursday before the show opened. "We've got a lot of money into it."
When organizers canceled the show for Saturday and Sunday, a note went up on the event's website: "Outdoor News staff have decided to take this regrettable step."
A much larger outdoors convention -- the Northwest Sportshow at the Minneapolis Convention Center -- was canceled Friday afternoon after Gov. Tim Walz announced the new health guidelines. It was scheduled to open April 2 for its 88th anniversary and was expected to draw 35,000 attendees. The show's 500 exhibitors normally occupy three of the convention center's four domes.
"While we remained hopeful that the show would proceed, we agree with Governor Walz's decision and believe this is the most prudent course of action to help protect our staff, members, exhibitors and attendees," said the Sportshow's Jennifer Thompson.
As recently as late Thursday afternoon, Sportshow Manager Darren Envall had been keeping his fingers crossed that the show would go on.
"We're following it very closely and we're waiting to see the developments," he said.
In Isanti, the Rum River Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society canceled its 25th anniversary banquet scheduled for March 20. The annual gatherings are cornerstone events for raising donations and renewing memberships. Similar cancellations were posted on the society's national website Friday for chapters in Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Washington.