Highland County faces second year without Maple Festival

Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 7:14 PM EST
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HIGHLAND COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - The Chamber of Commerce announced Friday the annual Maple Festival would be canceled for a second time.

Even on the best of days, things can be pretty quiet in Highland County.

But during the Maple Festival, “We have around 2,000 residents and this brings in tens of thousands over two weekends, so four days,” explained Chris Swecker, the Chamber of Commerce executive director.

And that’s way too many in the age of COVID.

“Regardless of who you are or what organization you are, the idea of having a very large gathering of thousands of people coming from across the state or from other states is not the best idea right now,” Central Shenandoah Health District PIO Laura Lee Wight said.

So for the second year running, the courthouse lawn will be empty in March.

“We’re hopeful with the vaccines that are coming,” Swecker said. “But it just doesn’t seem like the forecast, that by that time the restrictions will be lifted and it’ll be safe.”

But life goes on, and the local businesses that normally count on the festival are turning to other sources, like online.

“I can’t say for sure, but I have a feeling they’re going to be making maple donuts,” Dorothy Stephenson said. “They’re definitely going to be making maple syrup, because we’ve got to do something with all that sap.”

Stephenson has been leading the way with her site dedicated to the county,

“It’s, you know, it’s human adapting and we’ve been doing that here for hundreds of years,” she said.

And then look to next year.

“Once it’s safe and viable to do so, we will hold the festival again,” Swecker said. “I know that the fear is it’s not coming back, but we’re fully committed. We were committed this year, but we can’t do it with the guidelines.”

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