COVID-19 rustles Ocala Cattle Drive


Cowboys drive cattle through downtown in this 2020 file photo. On Tuesday, the Ocala City Council voted unanimously to cancel the event due to COVID-19 concerns. [Dave Miller/File]

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Posted January 5, 2021 | Ainslie Lee, Ocala Gazette

Cowboys drive cattle through downtown in this 2020 file photo. On Tuesday, the Ocala City Council voted unanimously to cancel the event due to COVID-19 concerns. [Dave Miller/File]

Organizers of this year’s Cattle Drive and Cowboy Round-Up guessed the event could draw somewhere between 4,000 to 5,000 spectators.

But with COVID-19 cases sharply up in Marion County, the Ocala City Council unanimously decided to cancel the Feb. 13 event.

The decision followed the cancellation of several other large public events, including Light Up Ocala and the Ocala Christmas Parade.

The cattle drive traditionally stretches a mile through downtown before ending at Tuscawilla Park, where events include hands-on demonstrations and other close-quarter activities.

Ocala’s Recreation and Parks Department reported maintaining social distancing during the four-hour-long event was not feasible.

The event costs the city about $25,000. Last year it drew more than 6,000 people.

Typically, the Marion County Cattlemen’s Association drives a herd of cattle through downtown to Tuscawilla Park. Last year, activities at the park included demonstrations, live music and mechanical bull rides. The event also features a duck derby, which benefits the Discovery Center.

Instead of the typical cattle drive, the city is exploring alternatives, including a possible “virtual cattle drive.”

The virtual alternative would feature archival footage of cattle being driven through downtown, according to Preston Pooser, director of the city parks department.

The duck derby also could be held virtually while still raising money for the Discovery Center through the sale of ducks.