SHARON – Local tourism businesses were elated Tuesday to hear that WaterFire Sharon was returning.
Organizers announced Tuesday the downtown Sharon event will be held Saturday, Sept. 18. That had been the scheduled date, but the WaterFire committee had previously said the event was subject to pandemic-related restrictions.
With the last of those restrictions scheduled to be lifted this month, the event is on.
"It's exciting to see that WaterFire Sharon is back,'' Casey Shilling, president of VisitMercerCountyPA, the county's tourism agency said. "It's a great tourist attraction that brings tons of people to our area.''
Held along the Shenango River, the event's signature attraction comes after dusk, when volunteers light wood fires in metal baskets on the river and a large cauldron on the State Street Bridge as tranquil music plays in the background.
Shilling's Greenville and Jamestown business, Carried Away Outfitters, will be among the beneficiaries of WaterFire Sharon's return. A large portion of the company's revenues comes from renting kayaks and canoes to adventurers traveling down the Shenango River.
"A lot of people come up for the day to see WaterFire Sharon and look for other things to do,'' he said.
WaterFire Sharon was one of many casualties of COVID-19, as organizers canceled both of the scheduled events last year.
Organizers canceled July's event in early spring because they didn't know at that time state pandemic guidelines would be in place. Each WaterFire event requires several months of planning.
WaterFire Sharon regularly attracts more than 20,000 people to downtown Sharon along East and West State Streets. Karen Winner Sed, WaterFire co-chairwoman, said the organizers are already working on safety measures..
"Although we can't be certain what September holds for us in 2021, we can be certain to embrace all measures being suggested by the Department of Health and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in order to stay healthy and keep our attendees, staff, volunteers and performers healthy,'' she said.
The event amenities will include handwashing and disinfecting stations.
"As it’s an open-air event, we’re hopeful that people will just maintain a safe distance from others that they’re comfortable with, as are those around them, while still allowing for everyone to have a good time,'' she said.
If there's no state mask mandate at that time, attendees can decide whether they should don a mask or not, Sed said.
As the number of new COVID-19 cases tumble, people feel more secure, said Karen Anderson, WaterFire's director of operations.
"People are in a better comfort level right now,'' Anderson said. "They just want to get out.''
Each WaterFire event has a theme. Although one isn't in place yet for September, it will likely involve "memories,'' Anderson said.
Sharon has hosted WaterFire events since 2013, with three events that year. In 2019, officials decreased the number of annual WaterFire events to two — one in July and the second in September — because of a shortage of volunteers.
Staging a WaterFire requires about 200 volunteers, with responsibilities from stage setups to moving firewood.
The September event will feature a full slate of entertainers.
Talent already booked includes Evil Ways, a Santana tribute band, and the Hern Brothers.
The organization is a non-profit arts fund of the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio.
As state pandemic guidelines were eased starting June 1, more annual local events, including — Grove City Strawberry Days Festival this Friday, Saturday and Sunday — are returning.
"It's going to be a great day,'' said John "Chip" Mastrian, co-chairman of WaterFire Sharon. "People are ready to come back and socialize, to move around freely again and enjoy good food, great entertainment and inspiring art. We're delighted to bring it back.''
To volunteer: www.waterfiresharonpa.org