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This 69 Volkswagen van was adorned with a portrait of late rock musician Jimi Hendrix. The Scenic City Volks Folks Car Club hosted Bug-a-Paluza 10. / Staff Photo by Robin Rudd

If there is one thing owners of vintage Volkswagens know, it's that being prepared for the unexpected is part of the VW experience. It's also a necessity, as owners learn to keep tools, and even spare parts, at the ready. So when organizers of the annual Bug-a-Palüza festival got word from Camp Jordan officials a few weeks ago that the East Ridge park would not be available in April as originally contracted because of COVID-19 concerns, the car club had to quickly find a new date and a new location.

"We already had registrants," said club officer Russ Jackson.

East Ridge City Manager Chris Dorsey said the city did not feel it could ensure public safety at such a large event, especially a two-day event where some participants camped on-site. Smaller events such as indoor soccer have been taking place at Camp Jordan in the indoor arena, with county guidelines being enforced, he said, adding that Bug-a-Palüza is not the only event forced to cancel.

"In fact, the city had planned a Centennial Celebration the weekend before, and we had to cancel that as well," he said.

Jackson said he and fellow organizers reached out to several other venues around town and finally contacted Chris Thomas, executive director of Finley Stadium and First Horizon Pavilion, which are owned by the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County. Thomas was receptive to the idea of hosting the event in the pavilion and the adjoining parking lots, but there was a problem. The 4 Bridges Arts Festival was already on the books for April 17-18, the original Bug-a-Palüza dates.

If You Go

* What: Bug-a-Palüza VW festival

* When: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. April 10

* Where: First Horizon Pavilion, 1826 Reggie White Blvd.

* Admission: $5

* Website: bug-a-paluza.com

April 10 was available, however. Jackson said around 300 cars have registered for the new date, "and we've already had to cut off vendor registration at 110. I think people are excited to be having the event again."

Last year's meet was canceled because of the coronavirus.

Club member Nick vonWerssowetz said in a video posted on social media announcing the changes that the pavilion offers several amenities that Camp Jordan does not. First Horizon has a covered pavilion, for example, in addition to the parking lots surrounding it for social distancing between cars, and it has closer bathrooms, he said.

One thing it does not allow for is camping. Bug-a-Palüza draws people from all over the country and as far away as Canada. Jackson said many of the fans, owners and vendors often camp in their VWs or in tents next to them.

"We really struggled with that, and that is why this is a one-day event this year. We plan to have camping back next year," Jackson said.

For 23 years, members of the Scenic City Volks Folks have been gathering with fellow Volkswagen enthusiasts for Bug-a-Palüza. Since 2009, they have donated proceeds from these yearly Beetle-fests to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Chattanooga, which helps families of critically ill and injured children.

"We typically shoot for $25,000 each year," Jackson said. More than $150,000 has been donated to the nonprofit organization to date. The bulk of that comes from the $5 admission fee and concession sales, but he added that any money left over from club expenses and costs associated with each year's event is added to the donation.

The club has held these events at Camp Jordan in East Ridge since 2003. Jackson said it became so popular a few years ago that the number of show cars had to be limited to 450 and vendors capped at around 120.

"We have vendors selling new and used parts, and we have people selling whole cars — project cars and finished cars."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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