ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Like many of its counterparts, the Prater's Mill Country Fair in Varnell, Ga., will sit out the 2020 fall festival season during the coronavirus pandemic.

Helen, Georgia, lays claim to having the longest-running Oktoberfest in the United States, but its 50th year will pass without the multiple weeks of revelry that normally occur in the Festhalle.

That doesn't mean celebrations won't be taking place, said Renee Green, executive director of the Greater Helen Area Chamber of Commerce.

"Helen is still open," she said. "The mountains are still here. Businesses are open. Restaurants are open. It's only the Chamber's celebration at the Festhalle that we have had to postpone, unfortunately."

With Labor Day signaling an unofficial end to summer, organizers of events around the region are facing fall with similar decisions of whether to cancel outright or cautiously move forward. With spring and summer diversions largely lost to the coronavirus pandemic, many planners said they had held out hope that the end of the year might be different. While several events remain in the works — including some in different venues and a few transitioning to a virtual format — many of the signature festivals associated with fall in the region have been cleared from the calendar, poised for a return in 2021.

(READ MORE: Fall festivals still happening in the Chattanooga area) 

Among them, the 49-year-old Prater's Mill County Fair, which celebrates the music, food and artistry of Appalachia at a historic mill in Varnell, Georgia.

"We can't produce the quality show that people expect and follow the Centers for Disease Control guidelines," said fair director Mikey Sims in a statement. "A lot of time and effort go into hosting the [fair], so this has been a very emotional and difficult decision."

Likewise, Green said she'd put two years into planning Helen's semicentennial Oktoberfest, which would have had the Festhalle buzzing with eight weeks of merriment, fueled by German bands, food and beer. But as a live performance venue, the Festhalle must adhere to stricter coronavirus restrictions than other businesses and restaurants.

"It's been shut down since February," she said.

Instead, individual establishments in the Bavarian town are planning smaller pop-up events during Oktoberfest, which lasts from mid-September through October.

The Chamber will kick off the celebration with a parade at noon Sept. 12, then put its 50-year plans on hold until 2021.

"We're actually going to mirror this year for next year," as well as add a bonus week, Green said. "As far as the schedule and the bands, we're all set for next year."

Still on the books is the Fall and Christmas Market at the Mountain Heights Venue in Soddy- Daisy. Primarily a wedding venue, it opened in June 2019 and drew about 20 vendors to its first market last December. This year, they're going bigger, said Courtney Neighbors, facility director and event coordinator.

Finding a non-wedding weekend meant moving the market to November and adding fall products to the lineup, along with holiday merchandise.

"In addition to the vendors, we'll have caterers with lunch, photographers for mini photo sessions, live music and possibly inflatables [for kids]," Neighbors said.

Forty vendors are confirmed, and they're hoping to book another 20.

"We have space to spread everybody out," she said.

Email Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT