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As restrictions loosen, hope returns for big events this summer in Madison

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MADISON (WKOW) -- As restrictions continue to loosen in Dane County, it paves the way for events that were canceled last year to finally return.

Starting April 7, masks will no longer be required for outdoor gatherings in Dane County. There are also no more capacity limits for outdoor gatherings, as long as there is social distancing.

"We're basically right now trying to make sure we understand the exact detail in the orders," said Vern Stenman.

Stenman is president of Big Top Sports and Entertainment, which runs both the Madison Mallards and Forward Madison FC.

Forward Madison played their season last year outside of Dane County, but the Mallards' season was canceled altogether.

Stenman says they're still finalizing plans, and are hoping to make a more solid announcement next week.

But it's looking good.

"I think we've always been cautiously optimistic about the return of our seasons," he said. "And I think the biggest challenge for us as a business is to understand exactly what all the rules mean and how they kind of actually work in practice at the type of events that we host."

While the Mallards didn't have a season last year, other teams in Wisconsin did.

"We operated full seasons in Green Bay, Kenosha and Wauwatosa with other properties that we own around the state," Stenman said.

He said those events followed local restrictions and operated safely, which makes him confident for a safe reopening here.

"We're proud that none of the cases even a year ago in those communities traced back to our operations," Stenman said.

Baseball and soccer are just two of the events likely returning soon.

"It's definitely encouraging to see that the tide is turning," said Destination Madison's Rob Gard.

Gard says visitors to Dane County bring in $1.4 billion each year. After cancelations last year, he's excited mainstays are returning like the World Dairy Expo, Dane County Fair and others.

"We're anticipating CrossFit Games to return this year, as well as IRONMAN," he said. "Both are huge events for Madison and really reflect our outdoor lifestyle, our fit lifestyle, so we're excited to welcome them back this year."

Gard says the latest research shows people are becoming much more confident in traveling, right as CDC updates its travel guidance for fully-vaccinated people.

"We saw probably a low point of 20 percent of people were interested in traveling, and that was early in the pandemic," Gard said. "The latest stats show that more than 81 percent of Americans are interested in traveling this summer."

2021 could be The Year of Return -- if the trends continue in the right direction.

"We kind of put a lot on hold, and we're hopeful or optimistic that those things will return to normal," Stenman said.

Andrew Merica

Reporter/Producer, 27 News

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