BBQ cook-off contest canceled

NILES — With events on pause in Niles, and throughout the state of Michigan, due to COVID-19 concerns, an annual grill competition has found itself without fuel for the fire.

On Friday, the chairman of the Backyard Griller’s BBQ Cook-Off event announced on social media the summer event would be canceled for the year.

In 2019, 17 grillers faced off in the challenge hosted at the Four Flags Area Apple Festival grounds on Lake Street.

Tom Nyhuis, chairman of the Backyard Griller’s BBQ Cook-Off, said many factors went into the decision, and it was not an easy one to make.

“We were holding off for better things to come,” Nyhuis said. “With everything that is detailed in getting ready for [the event], getting competitors lined up and getting other things ready for it, we usually start in May to get things going.”

With the end of May arriving, and the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” mandate extended to June 12 by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Nyhuis decided there were too many unknown factors to move forward.

“The city [of Niles] is not issuing any event permits or taking applications right now,” Nyhuis said.

Without being able to properly plan the event and ensure that the vendors could be scheduled, Nyhuis and the board decided that the event would not be hosted in its third year.

The availability of meats was also a factor in the board’s decision.

“There was a time where meats were kind of hard to get a hold of,” Nyhuis said. “Plus, the expense and prices going up was a factor in that.”

With Zoom meetings being hosted to discuss the various events related to the Four Flags Area Apple Festival, discussions are ongoing about each event’s needs and considerations. The same concerns the cook-off have faced are being considered by the Four Flags Area Apple Festival as well.

“Our biggest concerns we haven’t even realized yet,” said president of the Four Flags Area Apple Festival Bob Fortune. “We will be having another Zoom meeting this Thursday to discuss CDC guidelines, the Berrien County Health Department, our insurance, Joy’s Johns and hourly cleaning, guidelines for mass gatherings.”

Fortune also referenced concerns about exceptional citizens likely not being able to attend, touchless hand sanitizer and the expenses involved, as well as square feet per person needed to attended the festival safely.

This year’s Apple Festival dates are scheduled for Oct. 1 through 4. The festival organizers put in work beginning at the end of the prior event, making it a yearlong planning process.

The festival’s opening ceremony begins with the Miss and Junior Miss Apple Fest pageants two weeks prior to the October festival date.

“It’s a rather large festival,” Nyhuis said. “It takes time to prepare and put these things together. A lot of things have to be determined. There’s a large stake, not just for our festival, but all the festivals in the area that have already canceled or have said that they’re going to cancel. These vendors that rely on the summer income of their booths and food booths, it’s going to be a hard hit on them as well.”

In the end, Nyhuis said that even with all of the other factors, it does come down to the safety of the festival.

“It’s the safety of the public, the people, the volunteers and the safety of everyone in general in the community,” he said.

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