Winning triple play of events bring crowds, stretch Ely’s capacity

Buckle up.
That’s all we can say to Ely area residents, business owners and those who work at any retail, restaurant or other public-facing establishment.
The next week-to-10 days will be one exceedingly busy, at-times crazy ride.
This weekend’s Blueberry/Art Festival, followed in short order by the Division II Junior Legion State Baseball Tournament and the Ely Watercross event make for a trifecta that will fill the town, fill cash registers and stretch local capacity in every way.
By the thousands, people are descending into town. First for the Blueberry/Art Festival, which after both Covid and severe thunderstorm-related interruptions figures to run at full speed this weekend.
Whiteside Park will have its usual throngs of people and the ongoing construction project at the school has taken away parking spots and mean a long walk for those who will have to leave their vehicles many blocks away.
Blueberry weekend is always the busiest weekend of the summer and now for decades we’ve come to expect that.
The buzz in town started earlier in the week and as we write this, Whiteside Park is becoming a tent city. Vendors and festival visitors are joining those here for our lakes and trails and there may even be a traffic jam or two.
But the town isn’t about to empty. In fact, starting Wednesday we can expect “Blueberry Act Two” with the double-whammy of the baseball tournament and the Watercross.
Over 150 visiting players and coaches, as well as hundreds of parents, family members and fans from as far away as Sleepy Eye, Montevideo and Dilworth, will be in town.
About 250 of them will fill the Grand Ely Lodge that night for the pre-tournament banquet, and Veterans Memorial Field will play to near-packed houses for three days of baseball.
There’s bound to be considerable spillover downtown, in our restaurants and businesses and even all over the Iron Range.
How full will Ely be? Not only are there no rooms at the inn, but baseball fans will have to stay as far away as Virginia, Hibbing or even Grand Rapids while here for the tournament.
As the tournament wraps up Saturday afternoon, the attention turns to Winton where hundreds will turn out for the Watercross, a snowmobile water-skipping event that’s an attraction in its own right and includes three concerts to boot.
Again, the impact goes far beyond Winton and the Longbranch and the Watercross provides a boost to businesses across the spectrum - and to the community overall.
Even if your business doesn’t see visitors from these events, without a doubt you will have customers who are cashing paychecks that are bolstered because of them.
As we get set for a perhaps unprecedented 10 days of activity in Ely, these events show not only what we have, but the challenges and obstacles we face.
Surely, some businesses could cash in even more on these events if they had enough staff to be open for longer hours or for more days in the week. That’s a continuing problem, and one that doesn’t appear to have any immediate solution.
Major events also stretch our lodging capacity to the breaking point.
We’re not sure how to solve that one but there’s clearly demand and no shortage of events and activities to lure people to our neck of the woods.
Blueberry weekend followed by Legion baseball and the Watercross are coming together to form a heck of a triple play and are sure to introduce some new people to the area. Let’s welcome them here and invite them back.