MESICK — Even as large festivals and events scheduled to be held months from now in this area recently have been called off, organizers of the annual Mesick Jeep Blessing are holding firm in their plan to go ahead with the popular gathering on May 1.
Starting out as a handful of Jeep enthusiasts who would take to the trails outside Mesick following a short prayer at a local church, the Jeep Blessing has grown into one of Northern Michigan’s largest events, featuring a blessing, bands, vendors, and multiple off-road courses.
Founder and event organizer Deb Stafford said they're confident that the 20-30 acres of property where they host the Jeep Blessing will be more than adequate to handle the crowd that normally turns out for the event, although she's uncertain what turnout will end up being this year, considering everything that is going on.
"It's a little scary to think," Stafford said about the possibility of there being a much higher turnout than usual. "This year's a crapshoot. We're putting it in God's hands. God will provide."
Last year, due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, Stafford and other organizers made the decision to not hold the event; instead they shared a video of the blessing on their website and social media channels.
The highest turnout they've ever had at the Jeep blessing was 2,015 vehicles, with several thousand individuals on the property, located at the corner of M-115 and M-37.
Stafford said the only area where she thinks there may be an issue with social distancing is the course viewing area but for the most part, people naturally space themselves out on the property.
"People never stay in (a single area)," Stafford said. "They can spread out."
Although there's no official attendance limitation, Stafford said if they run out of parking spaces, they'll begin turning people away.
Recently, Stafford posted a list of suggested social distancing and coronavirus-related precautions on the Jeep Blessing Facebook page:
"We want to not only keep this event open, but the ability to show other events throughout the state that we can be responsible to hold events amidst a pandemic," the message reads. "The Jeep Blessing is outdoors, so it gives us better standing room and fresh air. With that in mind, give people space and try not to crowd areas ... If you want to wear a mask and can, by all means please do ... We ask all pro mask or anti mask bashers to be polite and just move away from people if you can. We are adults and ask people to act like such ... If you're sick, please stay home. If you know you have been exposed, we would like you to stay home (this we shouldn't have to mention)."
Stafford said they'll also be livestreaming the blessing and if people prefer to remain in their vehicles the entire time, they'll be able to do so.
To reduce the chance of coronavirus spread, Stafford said they won't have a bounce house this year, since they won't be able to sanitize it between uses. She said one benefit of not having a bounce house is that they'll have more room in the hill-to-stage area to spread out. In place of the bounce house, Clark the Juggler will be providing entertainment for the kids.
There will be no food tent this year, but Ellen’s Corners gas station has arranged to bring several food trucks to the blessing.
As part of the blessing, four obstacle courses and a mud pit will be set up for those who are interested in riding. Cost to enter a vehicle into an obstacle course is $20. Vehicles do not have to be jeeps in order to enter them into a course.
Cost to attend the event as a spectator is $5 per person 16 years old and up. Cost for those under 16 is free.
For more information, search for the Jeep Blessing on Facebook or go to their website, at cadillacjeepers.com.
Blessing schedule of events:
• 8 a.m. — Gates open
• 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Vendor’s areas open
• 9 to 11 a.m. — Praise band Arrows Rising to perform
• 11 a.m. — Blessing service
• Noon to 4 p.m. — Clark the Juggler
• Noon to 4:30 p.m. — Off-road courses. Stocker course; where you can test out you and your Jeep’s abilities with a stock four-wheel drive. Intermediate course; where you can put your Jeep to the test legally (tread lightly rules don’t apply). Chad Ville; (35 and Prime; tires, front and rear lockers, and winch required, broken parts left behind optional.) Mud bog.
• 4:30 p.m. — Prize Giveaways