RHINELANDER - Hodag Country Fest is on this year, after the Oneida County Public Safety Committee approved a large gathering permit.
Nearly everybody in the public comment period were against a permit for Hodag Fest. Two-thirds of emails regarding Hodag fest were against it. After all of this, the committee voted 4 to 1 to approve the permit.
Oneida County Public Health Department head Linda Conlon spoke out against the permit.
She cited Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation guidelines limit programmed events to 50 people. Hodag Fest regularly attracts tens of thousands of people.
Conlon said Hodag fest will bring in tourists from areas with a lot of infections.
"We are drawing people in from areas in the state of Wisconsin with higher levels of COVID-19 positives," said Conlon.
Dawn Eckert, a Hodag fest organizer, also spoke at the meeting. She said at-risk individuals will stay home whether they hold the Hodag or not.
"With the number of tourists already visiting the area, and Wal-mart being packed, Menards, Home Depot, the restaurants, the bars… How does what the high risk group need to do to protect themselves change by us having the festival?" said Eckert.
Committee member Mitchell Ives voted in favor of the permit, saying it comes down to personal choice.
"I believe it's up to the individual person if they don't want to go to a restaurant to eat, they don't have to," said Ives. "If they don't want to go to the Country Fest, they don't have to. That's our right. And I think as a private business I think these people have a right to do it."
Committee member Billie Fried was the only dissenting vote. He said he couldn't support a gathering of this magnitude in good conscience.
"I totally get that we want to give individuals that own businesses the right to do business," said Fried. "This is a whole different ball of wax, though. This is a nine-day event with thousands, not 200, not 1000 people."
The permit was approved with 25 conditions submitted by Hodag fest. The conditions are listed below: