LOUDON — With the 98th Laconia Motorcycle Week pulling up to the starting line, the sentiment of the various stakeholders who coordinate, host, or promote the event is: What a difference a year makes.

The difference was immediately apparent at the news conference at the North East Motor Sports Museum in Loudon on Thursday when close to 100 people, including Gov. Chris Sununu, Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer and other dignitaries turned out to mark the formal kickoff of the annual event that brings thousands of motorcyclists to the Lakes Region and other parts of the state.

By contrast, only about two dozen people showed up for last year’s news conference in August.

“We’re here to celebrate resilience and celebrate this event,” Cynthia Makris, president of the Laconia Motorcycle Week board, told the gathering.

Among those in the audience were representatives of the State Police, the State Liquor Commission, Gunstock Resort, the museum, and the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where motorcycle races will be held this weekend and next.

While noting the challenges of living though months of special restrictions and precautions due to the pandemic, Hosmer said this year’s rally is yet another sign that life is returning to normal. He said the rally will be a chance for motorcycle enthusiasts and others to enjoy “an all-American event."

“Let’s get back into the saddle,” the mayor said.

Last year’s rally was postponed until the third week of August due to the pandemic, and traditional aspects of the event designed to attract throngs of bikers to Weirs Beach were scrapped.

Sununu said the success the state has had in significantly reducing the number of COVID cases, coupled with the large numbers of people who have been vaccinated against the virus, is what has given officials the confidence that the rally can be held with minimal restrictions, without putting people at risk healthwise.

“America is so far ahead of the rest of the world, and New Hampshire is so far ahead of the nation,” Sununu said as new cases and positivity rates continue to fall.

However, City Manager Scott Myers asked that people continue to take “common-sense” precautions.

The city has limited the density among vendor tents in order to promote social distancing.

“We’re in the eighth inning of a nine-inning game,” Myers said.

Jennifer Anderson, the deputy director of the Motorcycle Week Association, noted there would be hand-washing stations set up around Weirs Beach and that the association was taking steps to make people aware of the importance of social distancing.

“People still need to take precautions,” said Charlie St. Clair, the association’s executive director.

Makris and Hosmer both praised St. Clair and Anderson for their work in promoting the event despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, and also by a fire on Christmas Day that heavily damaged the association’s offices on Union Avenue.

“What these two have done to fight through adversity is truly remarkable,” Homser said. “This is what community really means.”

St. Clair and Anderson used the occasion to present Fire Chief Kirk Beattie with a plaque showing the association’s gratitude for the Laconia Fire Department, as well as neighboring departments for their professionalism and compassion shown during the fire and afterward.

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