52nd annual Fort Vallonia Days canceled



The Fort Vallonia Days festival committee and Fort Vallonia Days Association came together to make a tough decision.

Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they decided it’s in the best interest to cancel the 2020 Fort Vallonia Days festival, which takes place on the third weekend of October each year.

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This would have been the 52nd year of the event that draws tens of thousands of people to the small Jackson County community for the food and craft booths, flea market tables, demonstrations and activities around the historic fort, parade and stage entertainment.

A post was shared on the festival’s Facebook page early Wednesday morning saying much thought and careful consideration went into the decision.

“With the current restrictions on mass gatherings and the unknown of what may happen between now and October, the Fort Vallonia festival committee and Fort Vallonia Days board of directors all agree that canceling the festival is in the best interest of our volunteers, vendors and patrons,” the post reads. “We look forward to having a wonderful festival next year. We’ll see you the third weekend in October 2021.”

Amanda Lowery, secretary of the festival committee and publicity chairwoman for the festival, said the committee met in mid-June, which normally is when they gather to get things rolling for the two-day event.

“At that time, there were so many unknowns, so we decided at that meeting that we would reach out to our vendors to see if there was interest in them still coming,” she said.

“We looked at it from a financial standpoint — this is how much we need to produce our festival, is it going to be financially viable for us to have a festival if we don’t have vendors and a flea market,” she said. “If our vendors can’t come, we can’t put a festival on.”

At that time, Lowery said the committee felt it was too early to cancel the festival.

“We wanted to get through that Stage 4 reopening and see how things were going,” she said.

The festival committee met Monday, giving people overseeing different parts of the festival a chance to share data they had gathered. Lowery said they also had spoken to Dr. Christopher Bunce and Whitney Kovener with the Jackson County Health Department to determine the local expectations if they were to have the festival.

“We tried to be as diligent as we could to really try to put a festival together, and when we sat down and looked at what we would have to do to accomplish Fort Vallonia Days this year, I think we felt like we were going to have to give up too many pieces of the festival that make Fort Vallonia Days a great event that people want to visit,” she said.

The committee would have had the added expenses of providing hand sanitizing stations and personal protective equipment for volunteers, and social distancing would have been difficult to accomplish since the festival packs people into two blocks of town, Lowery said.

“We had certain guidelines we needed to meet, and we had to be responsible about keeping our visitors safe,” she said.

The committee discussed options to offset costs, including charging an entry fee or asking for donations from the community.

“We felt very strongly that we wanted to keep Fort Vallonia Days a free festival,” Lowery said. “That’s something that we’re proud of.”

The determination was that it wasn’t financially smart to have a festival this year, and from a community safety standpoint, it wasn’t something they could accomplish, she said.

The committee shared its recommendation to cancel the festival with the Fort Vallonia Days Association, and that group met Tuesday night and agreed with that decision.

“It’s not just the people but the families of volunteers who have worked for the last 50-plus years to make Fort Vallonia Days happen the third weekend in October,” Lowery said. “We are just as devastated as anyone else, but we also have a responsibility to be able to continue to bring you a festival every year because I’m sure that’s what people want. We just couldn’t take that risk this year with all of the unknowns.”

The Fort Vallonia Days Association is seeing the Joe Jackson Hotel renovation project near completion and will have new expenses related to maintain it, so Lowery said the group will have to see how that piece is going to fit into the festival from a financial standpoint.

“We want that to be valuable to our community, too,” she said.

Once that’s determined, the groups can start planning in hopes of bringing back Fort Vallonia Days in 2021.

“We’re so sad, but we’ll be back next year,” Lowery said.

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