The Highland County Chamber of Commerce has made the decision to officially cancel both weekends of the 2021 Highland County Maple Festival, originally scheduled for March 13-14 and 20-21, 2021. This announcement was made “with heavy hearts after months of deliberation, input, and research for how to safely hold the event given the current state guidelines concerning the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic.”
In a typical year, the Maple Festival draws thousands of people daily throughout the county in densely packed crowds. The current Forward Virginia Phase Three Guidelines restrict mass events to a total of 250 people, including all staff, vendors and volunteers. The Chamber alone coordinates over 100 vendors throughout downtown Monterey, the Highland County Public School System, and McDowell as part of the festival.
Even though the majority of the overall festival takes place outside, the state requirements of crowd control, social distancing and extensive cleaning processes in these high traffic areas is just not feasible. The state guidelines require that “establishments must either implement the … mandatory requirements or remain closed.”
In a press release the Chamber said it has “worked for months to determine workable paths forward, even amidst changing guidelines that became more and more restrictive through winter. We had sincerely hoped for a different outcome. Although there is hope in the near future for vaccines to finally put the pandemic behind us, the Chamber has to focus on the current guidelines and health situation, particularly in our community where over one-third of our citizens are aged 65 and older. We miss our visitors and vendors, and we want to have a festival that meets the public’s expectations. We cannot predict or rely on speculation of what March will hold to make our plans, so rather than focusing on a Maple Festival in 2021 that has the risks outweighing the benefits, the Chamber feels it is best to wait and put our full efforts into 2022. Although this is difficult in the short-term, we feel it is best for the long-term success of the festival.”
Thankfully, the coronavirus does not stop the sugar water flowing from the trees, nor does it stop the county’s dedicated producers from producing their maple syrup as they have done for decades. Even though the festival is cancelled, certain Chamber member businesses and organizations, including sugar camps, have made plans to be open in the late winter and spring, following the state guidelines specific to their designated business type. More information about Chamber member offerings will be forthcoming at www.highlandcounty.org in the coming weeks and months.
The Highland County Chamber went on to say, “We fully understand the immense and overwhelmingly negative implications that will occur to the local economy, businesses, school system, nonprofits, civic organizations, churches, individuals, vendors, and visitors, as well as the Chamber of Commerce itself, based upon two years of these unprecedented and undesirable decisions. However, we are fully committed to holding the Highland County Maple Festival in the future when it is safe and viable to do so. The festival has occurred with so much hard work and dedication from so many talented people for over 60 years. The Chamber is dedicated to keeping that legacy alive and continuing this tradition for many years to come for future generations. We look forward to being back stronger than ever in 2022.”
For more information about Highland County in general, visit www.highlandcounty.org.