Fort Calhoun heading to normalcy after pandemic

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After a year of COVID-19, Fort Calhoun has regained a little bit of normalcy, though the city is trying to remain safe for its residents.

With the school district remaining open the entire 2020-21 school year, businesses staying open and cancelled events resurfacing, Fort Calhoun has made an effort to make a comeback.

City officials tried to be 'calming force'

At the beginning of the pandemic, Mayor Mitch Robinson said his main goal was to gain knowledge on the disease, as well as keep citizens informed and calm.

"We had to try to get through what this was and what was going on because it seemed like every other day and week, it was changing," Robinson said. "Then it was trying to make decisions for the safety of the workers and community, but not keep flip-flopping it because that can lead to panic."

The office was closed for a bit and the staff worked remotely, and a city council meeting was done through Zoom.

Robinson also had an emergency declaration, which allowed him to make any necessary decisions without having a city council meeting, if needed.

"It was a lot of responsibility and trust they gave me," he said. "We tried to be a calming force to people."

Alicia Koziol, the city clerk, said businesses were kept up-to-date on any directed health measures or changes.

"We made sure they knew what was going on and made sure they were following them," Koziol said.
Lack of tourism at the Washington County Museum and Fort Atkinson was felt throughout the community, said Deb Sutherland, the city's community coordinator.

Christmas in Calhoun, a big citywide event, was canceled.

"It was unfortunate," Koziol said. "We thought by then it would be done and over with."

Sutherland said she was happy to see the schools open for the entire year.

"I think our school has done a great job keeping things pretty consistent," she said. "That was a positive for the community."

Robinson said the city is starting to get back to normal.

"Our community is doing very well, our businesses are back up, we didn't lose any businesses that we're aware of," Robinson said. "People need to keep being responsible and act accordingly."

Library reopens with safety in mind

The Fort Calhoun Library and City Hall, which are located in the same building, were forced to close its doors for a short period at the beginning of the pandemic in March and April.

Sharon Voss and Pat Nelson, librarians, said many of the library's normal events were postponed to ensure the safety of the community.

Some regularly-scheduled events, such as the annual Easter Egg Hunt, activities during Christmas in Calhoun and Book Club were all postponed.

One event, the Summer Reading Program, did commence, though it was limited, Voss said.

The library is now open at its regular hours and Voss said volunteers make sure it is clean for the visitors.

"We haven't had that many kids come in, it's always been maybe one or two," Voss said. "When I've been here, it's been mostly adults."

Nelson said she sees many people taking that extra step by wearing a mask when they visit the library.

"Everybody wants to get out," she said.

Voss said she feels sad knowing the pandemic has prolonged for a year.

"Everybody wants to go back to normal, and who knows when it will be," she said.

With restrictions lifting slightly and vaccinations being rolled out, Voss said she's excited to see events.

"I'm looking forward to the Summer Reading Program," she said. "Last year, school was out right away, and normally we send notes to the school to go home with the kids and we get a lot of kids in for Summer Reading. This year should be different and I'm expecting a really good turnout."

'We'd like to see things get back to normal'

Fort Atkinson, a main attraction for tourism in the city, also was not spared from having to shut down many events.

The seasonal Living History days, though they did commence later on in the year, had to be adjusted to ensure the safety of the volunteers and guests, Fort Atkinson Director Jason Grof said.

The event, which usually allows visitors to go inside the rooms of the fort, had volunteers roped off outside so they could talk to the crowd from 6 feet away.

Other events canceled included the Pearl Harbor event in December, Bicentennial activities, the Candlelight Tour and various guest speakers.

Most events, minus the Candlelight Tour potentially, are scheduled to occur this year with caution.

"We're trying to figure out the safety procedures," Grof said. "We'd like to have these when they're safe for volunteers and visitors."

Construction is also going on in the visitor center and a fort wall, and has caused a few delays due to COVID-19.

Living History will start up the first weekend of May, with the same procedures put in place as last year.

Grof said after a long year of COVID-19, he wants to see events start up again.

"We'd like to see things get back to normal and get things going," he said. "We want to get people back outside."

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