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COVID claims N.C. Melon Fest

By Cal Bryant

Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald

The overall impact of the COVID-19 virus has claimed one of northeastern North Carolina’s most popular summertime events.

Officials with the North Carolina Watermelon Festival announced Wednesday the cancellation of the 2020 event, which was scheduled July 29 through Aug. 1 in downtown Murfreesboro.

The decision to cancel was reached was by consensus of the Festival’s Executive Committee.

“There was a great deal of thought and discussion that took place leading up to making a decision of this magnitude,” said Kay Thomas, co-chair of the Festival Committee. “We discussed at length ways to make this year’s event happen, but in the end it kept coming back to protecting the health and safety of our patrons, our vendors, our event volunteers, all those who have made this festival what it has become over the past 35 years.”

Thomas said the committee even discussed a scenario that called for the festival to be held for two days instead of the traditional four.

“That was not practical from a financial standpoint,” Thomas noted.

She added that the current structure of Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan to slowly reopen the state also played a role in making the decision to cancel this year’s festival.

“If everything stays on course with the governor’s plan, phase three — which lessens restrictions to the point that allows for larger crowds to gather in one place — should be in place by early to mid-July. If that’s the case, then that gives us only two weeks to put this all together … a logistics nightmare,” Thomas stressed.

“Mass groups assembling anywhere right now is very upsetting, physically and emotionally,” she continued. “Plus we looked at the fact that the large majority of our festival volunteers, who typically work all four days of the event, are getting up there in years, ages 60 and over, and we know the health risks that age group faces with COVID-19.”

Thomas said the committee came to an agreement to cancel the event and announce it immediately in an effort to give everyone plenty of advance notice.

“We did not make this decision lightly,” Thomas said. “Most of us have been on this committee for 35 years. We love this festival; this festival is a time to celebrate harvest and celebrate family and we must, by all means necessary, protect the family.

“We feel that this decision is in the best interest of all participants, and it’s our prayer that you and your family remain healthy and safe,” Thomas closed, adding that the committee will strive to make the 2021 Watermelon Festival the best ever in the long history of the event.

Next year’s festival is scheduled for Aug. 4-7, 2021.