By Harley Nefe
From the Fourth of July parade to the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, Singing on the Mountain music festival, Concerts in the Park and Art on the Greene, many of Banner Elk area’s popular summer events have been canceled due to COVID-19.
“The Town of Banner Elk made the decision after talking to the health department,” Town of Banner Elk Tourism Development Authority Director Nancy Owen said. “The health and safety of the community, residents and visitors is first, which is why they decided to cancel.”
Banner Elk’s Fourth of July parade typically involves star-spangled vehicles, people and animals parading down Main Street and is surrounded by huge crowds.
Concerts in the Park, which is sponsored by the Banner Elk Chamber of Commerce, is typically held on Thursday evenings throughout the summer. Well-known local and regional bands perform live shows at the Tate-Evans Town Park Amphitheater, and the fun dance music from southern rock to oldies, soul, country and funk is appropriate for all ages.
And lastly, Art on the Greene is one of the latest events to be canceled in Banner Elk. For 2020, Art on the Greene was originally scheduled to take place Memorial Day weekend and Fourth of July weekend along with an early August and Labor Day weekend, However, the Memorial Day weekend and July Fourth weekend shows have been canceled.
Art on the Greene is where the green at the Historic Banner Elk School comes to life featuring quality, hand-made arts and crafts from selected regional and national artisans.
“Art on the Greene is geared toward artists who are involved in any medium in the Appalachian tradition of hand crafters,” said show director Kimberly Tufts. “We have metal artists, glass artists, potters, and high-quality jewelry from all types of makers. We have wood workers of all varieties from furniture to home decor wood items, as well as painters in a variety of mediums – watercolor, acrylic and oil.”
For the remaining 2020 Art on the Greene shows, safety measures will be in place such as reducing the number of vendors by 50%, increasing space between booths to at least 12 feet, having no picnic tables or places to congregate, limiting the number of customers at booths at a time, having no food trucks or entertainment and posting signage asking people to social distance.
“Events in Banner Elk are honestly so insane,” Owen said. “ … Banner Elk is so busy, we don’t want it to be a hub for an outbreak. So, we just really felt that people couldn’t social distance, and not everyone follows the rules, and it’s too stressful.”
However, despite many events being canceled, summer residents are back in the High Country, people are in town as well as occupancy tax numbers have been increasing a little each month.
“Our website at bannerelk.com has seen over a 100% increase in traffic from last year at this time,” Owen said. “So, people are interested, and they are coming up on weekends, and we’re definitely seeing it in our restaurants and around town and our parks.”
Owen also said day trips seem to be really popular, and she has noticed that people seem to be getting away from urban areas, and they’re coming up to the High Country for the weekends for fresh mountain air, and they seem to feel safe in the mountains.
People may be tired of quarantining and all the other impacts of COVID-19; but being outside is and hiking is a common activity for people in the High Country. Owen said Banner Elk has had some great summer temperatures, which is “really the cherry on top.”
“We are optimistic things will be better in the fall and that we can start to see some return to normalcy,” Owen said.