COTTAGE GROVE — The summer-fun July festival in Cottage Grove, Bohemia Mining Days — a weekend full of prospectin’, rootin’ and tootin’ — continues to struggle with the lingering effects of the COVID pandemic, and organizers say “final fundraising and logistical factors” may ultimately derail the event.
In a letter to donors, BMD festival coordinator Scott Borgioli told business owners the future of the festival, scheduled for July 14-16, is in limbo. The foundation, which oversees the festival, is short $35,000. Borgioli says the fair board will be deciding on May 15 whether or not to “cut back significantly or postponing the festival altogether until 2024.”
“There’s been a struggle over the last five years, in that a lot of our long-term community members that historically inherited aspects of the event have either gone by the wayside or are no longer with us,” he said. “We’re seeing positive feedback; I’m confident that the community is going to step up and continue to support the festival, but we do need more help this year more than ever.”
Kicking it back to its roots – the days of panning for gold, ore carts and frothy, chilled root beer floats, Cottage Grove’s trademark celebration emerged from the COVID pandemic last year after a few modified, restricted festivals.
“First and foremost, BMD is a way to bring the community together, to reunite and reconnect with each other,” he said. “I want to involve all of the community — I want the city to thrive, I want families to have fun.”
Bohemia Mining Days has over six decades of celebrating the history of the innovators, dreamers and doers in Cottage Grove, recognizing their capacity to adapt, persevere and courageously embrace change, said Christina Hester, BMD deputy marshall.
“For those of us that have grown up with this fantastic local festival in our very own small town, we can’t start to forget the value of the festival experience that’s available to us in our local parks each summer,” said Hester. “Nearly everyone in this area has a memory of either marching in the Grand Miners Parade, or spectating and cheering on their friends and family. Sharing BMD with our neighbors is a special experience, one that develops lifelong memories, and can help create a foundation for community growth.”
Routine maintenance and upkeep of festival materials pulled from storage – like tables, chairs and sound system equipment — were a costly and unpredictable budget item to get the festival back on its feet, Borgioli says.
“I had a lot of work to do to restore the infrastructure post-COVID,” he said. “And in early 2022, there was so much excitement. We had strong donations flowing in to start replacing our infrastructure.”
Borgioli also says that last year, the festival had to cut its carnival commissions in order to entice the company to return. This year, the carnival won’t be returning.
“COVID decimated the industry and carnival companies who serve our region reduced their operations to just one ‘unit’ or completely went out of business. I’ve begged and pleaded with the carnival owners, all who’ve said they don’t have the labor force to expand beyond their one unit,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest draws for families with children, it’s one of the biggest hits of the festival in terms of value. So this year, we’re in the negative because we won’t have the carnival commissions.”
A signature component of BMD has been its revered “Ore Cart Races,” in which teams of miners and tommyknockers race into the history books, competing against eachother for the gold.
This year, Borgioli and the BMD board are launching a new race, the “Minor Miners,” for youngins’ to throw their hat in the ring.
“We finally feel ready to roll out the minor miners,” said Dana Merryday, ore cart coordinator. “I still hope to recruit some groups who just want to do a fun run and concentrate on a funny cart race with costumes and not so much on trying to be that competitive.”
Still, organizers know the clock is ticking.
“The success of any festival comes down to the great people who attend and enjoy the labor of love made possible by the organizers,” Hester said. “BMD offers great opportunities that our community members can use to create the memories that are most important to them. It’s my genuine hope that our great small town takes advantage of each festival attraction this year and invests in making memories.”
To make a donation or become a sponsor, visit bohemiaminingdays.org.