Elizabethton Parks and Rec moving forward with planning summer events, despite COVID-19 unknowns

Local Coronavirus Coverage

ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) – COVID-19 forced the halt of summer events last year. With a decline in county cases and the distribution of vaccines, officials with the Elizabethton Parks and Recreational Department hope that’s not the case this year.

As of now, city leaders are planning to move forward with their 2021 events to return to some sense of normalcy and once again hold traditions that community members know and love.

In their February newsletter, city officials outlined their plans for the start of summer. They stated they plan to open the Franklin Pool and splash pad on May 29, hold the Covered Bridge Festival June 9-12 and host their traditional Independence Day celebration on July 4.

The city also plans to host Covered Bridge Jams and ‘Show on the Doe’ during the summer, but dates have yet to be announced.

With the resurrection of Elizabethton’s usual events also comes planning for new ones. According to the newsletter, a new Halloween event is in the works with a “ghost ride” taking place along the Tweetsie Trail.

It is important to note, as of February, the planning process is underway. While officials hope they can follow through with hosting these events, the decisions whether to move forward or cancel will ultimately be made based on local COVID-19 case counts and guidance from the local health department.

“We want to be optimistic, and we want to be able to hope for the best, so that’s what staff is doing now. We’re really getting everything together and just being very clear with everyone that we’re working with from our sponsors to our entertainment,” said Elizabethton Programming and Special Events Coordinator, Kelly Kitchens.

Right now, the biggest events being discussed and planned are the Covered Bridge Festival and the Independence Day celebration, both of which were canceled last year.

While it’s still a way out, planning for these large-scale events typically starts this time of the year.

“All these people like the craft vendors, the food vendors, they plan their schedules early in the year because they know where they’re going to be all season,” said Elizabethton Recreation Manager, David Nanney.

The larger events will prove more challenging to hold, but both Kitchens and Nanney told News Channel 11’s Kelly Grosfield that if these events go on, they will follow CDC guidelines that are recommended at the time.

Kitchens said it helps that most of the events being planned take place outside.

“People are really just looking for things to do, and we’re very fortunate that the department we work in has so many great outdoor spaces,” said Kitchens.

Currently, officials with Elizabethton Parks and Recreation are talking to sponsors and looking for the help of community partners in putting on this event. Kitchens said some vendors and partners are already lined up.

On top of events, activities are also being planned for this summer such as opening the splash pad and pool. Nanney said they’re currently looking to hire lifeguards.

On Saturday, the youth baseball and softball leagues opened registration with plans to play locally as well as travel for tournaments.

While Kitchens and Nanney are hopeful they can hold these events, at the end of the day, the decision will be at the mercy of local health officials.

Kitchens said they will hold out as long as they can before having to cancel an event. She hopes the events being planned for summer through December will be able to happen.

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