ROCKLAND — It is one of the milestones of the year, an event people from all over Knox County and, in some cases, the world, look forward to.

The Maine Lobster Festival has been part of the summer experience since its inception in 1947. Each year, residents line the streets in Rockland to view the parade. The coronation of the Maine Sea Goddess each year graces the front cover of The Courier-Gazette as a near sacred tradition, and it comes back around for a mention and a photo around New Years as part of our year-end review.

The idea of losing one year of the festival, let alone two, was unthinkable before the coming of COVID-19.

However, the Maine Lobster Festival Board of Directors faced a difficult decision this year. They had to decide by the first week in April whether to move forward with this year’s event due to deposits that would not be returned for renting tents after that point.

The situation with the pandemic has been hard to read for event organizers. Vaccinations are available, but not everyone has taken advantage of that. In addition, COVID-19 in some places is on the rise even now, though in many respects things have returned to something approaching normal for those who have been vaccinated. In March, it was a tough decision to make.

The board voted unanimously March 30 to cancel the 2021 event because of continued concerns about COVID-19.

“It was a unanimous decision by the board membership to cancel the 2021 Maine Lobster Festival,” said Board President Celia Crie Knight in an email July 20. “I am very confident that we made the right decision. There were too many unknowns regarding volunteer safety, vendors not doing shows this summer, and what the CDC guidelines would be for us setting up a complete restaurant (Food Tent).”

She said more goes into the planning and organization of the annual event than people realize.

“One of the other reasons, not known to many is that fact that it takes the volunteers two full weeks before the festival opens to set up,” she said. “We use approximately 30 inmates from the prison farm to accomplish this. The farm was not going to let them help this summer due to a lockdown [caused by the pandemic] that was, only recently, partially lifted. They are vital to our festival.”

The festival is a massive undertaking involving hundreds of volunteers. It involves booking major acts for performances, organizing a carnival with rides, food and vendors selling goods, putting on a pageant to name the year’s Sea Goddess, organizing a parade, holding sporting events ranging from foot races to the annual crate races, setting up cooking contests, displaying local art, educating visitors about the fishing industry and coordinating with the Navy and Coast Guard. Many years, a Navy vessel anchors in the harbor and provides tours to festival goers.

The festival held a smaller coronation event in 2020 for the Sea Goddess, but Knight said there would not be a coronation this year.

“The winners last year have not attended any events, and we wanted them to experience that,” she explained.

Chloe Elizabeth Blake of Warren was crowned the 2020 Sea Goddess of the Maine Lobster Festival Aug. 8.

The plan is a triumphant return for the festival Aug. 3 to Aug. 7, 2022. “God willing!” Knight added.

The festival will have an environmental theme. “We are focusing on ‘Going Green’ and many other special events,” she said.

The festival is looking for new volunteers and organizers and is interested in improving and evolving. As a nonprofit in the area, the organization has remained active. It awarded $5,000 in scholarships to local high schools.

“We want everyone to know that our festival will be back, and that we as a board are working very hard to make smart, safe decisions for our festival and our community,” Knight said.