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Organizers cancel Annual Watermelon Days Festival amid COVID-19 concerns

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed perhaps its highest-profile casualty in Crisp County: the world famous Watermelon Days Festival.

Cordele-Crisp Chamber of Commerce President Monica Simmons said organizers of the festival hope to reschedule many of the watermelon festival’s more popular events around the Labor Day weekend, but events are in flux as public health officials continue to monitor the pandemic.

Right now, the focus for Simmons and Chamber Chair Marlene Kimball is safety.

“We cannot in good conscience hold events that could spread COVID-19. This would not be fair to our citizens and especially our front-line folks who have been working tirelessly since March to take care of those sick with the virus,” Kimball said in a press release announcing the cancellation of the Annual Watermelon Days Festival.

The chamber’s press release further states:

“The Cordele-Crisp Chamber of Commerce met via conference call last week with local leaders, including city and county officials, Sheriff Billy Hancock, and Steve Gautney, CEO of Crisp Regional Hospital, to discuss several items. The main topic was the annual Watermelon Days Festival and the Fireworks on the Flint. The festival and fireworks bring thousands to the community annually, the third week in June and on July 4th and there is no way you can “social distance” at the various events that are held. The group discussed the number of cases that continue to pop up around the state and how communities can slow the spread of the virus. After much discussion, the consensus of the group was to cancel the festival, including the Fireworks on the Flint. This will be only the second time in the 70-year history that the festival has been cancelled. The other time was the flood of 1994. Marlene Kimball, chair of the chamber of commerce stated ‘this is a very difficult decision to make…the Watermelon Festival is a signature event of the chamber and an event that the whole region and state looks forward to. But, keeping our community and visitor’s safe is our priority.’ Monica Simmons, President of the Chamber, says she knows this is what’s best for the community, but is disappointed that this year ‘won’t be the same’ as the last 70. ‘I will honestly say I am sad. We will all miss the festival. It is such a fun time of year that brings our community together to celebrate the fruit that has made us famous,’ says Simmons. ‘This is just one of those things that we have no control over.’

“Many communities around the nation and world are also canceling events that could spread the COVID-19 virus. It’s just the right decision to make at this time,” the Chamber’s press release continues.

“We will begin plans soon to make the 72nd Festival the best one ever. Volunteers are always needed, so please call the Chamber if you are interested in helping,” the press release concludes.