After cancelling popular events, Rondy organizers worry pandemic could end winter festival for good

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Fur Rendezvous 2021 is still months away, but the organization is facing a crisis: the annual winter festival anticipates a 50% reduction in the revenue it would typically make from major fundraising events and sponsorships due to the pandemic.

Without an infusion of financial support, “Rondy is at risk to cease to exist after this year,” organizers wrote on Facebook.

“We still have those hard costs,” executive director John McCleary said. The festival may be once a year, but “Insurance, the rent, utilities, storage and all of those other things are on a monthly basis — and they are basically for 365 days.”

Running of the Reindeer and the annual sled dog race — which often draw large crowds — have been canceled. In a non-pandemic year those events would bring in a lot of cash, including from outside Alaska. Rondy estimates that 25% of attendees are out-of-state visitors. McCleary knows that’s going to take a hit this year.

“We’ve had phone calls, ‘Are you having the Running of the Reindeer? Oh, no, you’re not? Well, maybe we’ll wait until next year,’” McCleary said.

Carol Daugherty helps Ray Hoover as he picks up an order of Fur Rondy pins for his wife on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020 in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Fur Rondy executive director John McCleary holds a 2021 Rondy pin at the Rondy headquarters on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020 in Anchorage. The pin is designed by Pittsburgh, PA resident Dan Deibler, who described his design this way: ’In a modern era plagued by a global pandemic, I hearkened back to an old team of heroes that delivered necessary medicine across a great and perilous landscape. ’ (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Many events are still being coordinated; McCleary says Rondy Reimagined will focus more on the outdoors. Some events have yet to be approved by the Municipality of Anchorage to meet COVID-19 guidelines, like the Outhouse Races. McCleary says Rondy is looking at ways to make popular events like Frostbite Footrace, Running of the Critters and snowshoe softball safe outdoors.

Fur Rondy is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, meaning they can’t apply for COVID-19 relief grant funds that went to organizations designated as a 501(c)(3). McCleary says Fur Rondy has petitioned with the IRS three times to change its status from a 501(c)(4), but to no avail.

McCleary has worked with Fur Rondy since the ’70s, serving on the board since 1985 and taking the role of executive director in 2016. He says the organization partners with over 45 nonprofits in Anchorage, like the Food Bank of Alaska and Toys for Tots. Those partnerships provide revenue for many of the nonprofits. Fur Rondy also boosts downtown Anchorage’s economic activity during the slower, winter months, which benefits hotels, businesses and restaurants.

“We just can’t hibernate, otherwise we die,” McCleary said. “We’re needing the people’s support… The community has always supported the fun in Rondy. We’re asking people to help us have fun again in 2022.”


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