FARMINGTON -- One by one, standing community traditions in western Washington County are falling by the wayside this year because of the covid-19 pandemic.
One long-time tradition, the Clothesline Fair in its 69th year, has not been canceled yet and a final decision on that will come in July.
Prairie Grove Lions Club was the latest group to announce a major cancellation. Last week, President Casey Copeland posted on the club's Facebook page that members had decided to cancel the square dancing exhibition and competition for the 2020 Clothesline Fair.
In the same week, Farmington Mayor Ernie Penn said he will cancel the city's fairly new Farmington Fall Festival, now in its fourth year. Last month, Prairie Grove Mayor Sonny Hudson canceled the city's annual Celebrate Prairie Grove event, a community fireworks display and pool party at the Rieff Park and the aquatic center.
Cane Hill Harvest Festival Canceled
Cane Hill Harvest Festival, scheduled for Sept. 19-20, was the first to be canceled earlier this month. The festival would have been celebrating its 34th year. The committee voted June 4 to cancel the 2020 harvest festival out of concern for the safety of visitors and volunteers and reducing the possible spread of covid-19.
The committee also was concerned that it would be difficult to follow guidelines from the Arkansas Department of Health for food service and social distancing.
The annual festival, held on the grounds of historic Cane Hill College, features craft vendors, food, live music, a country breakfast, quilt show and demonstrations on making sorghum molasses and hominy.
Apple Festival Canceled
The Arkansas Apple Festival in Lincoln, always held the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the first weekend in October, was the next domino to fall.
"Due to the changing circumstances and unforeseen future due to the covid-19 pandemic, we feel this decision must be made in order to protect the safety of both our volunteers, vendors and citizens," the city of Lincoln announced June 10 on its Facebook page in calling off the 45th festival. "There is so much preparation months in advance and we waited until the last possible moment to come to the best decision possible, and with great sadness the decision had to be made to cancel for this year in October."
The festival features freshly sliced apples for visitors, crafts, food, music, a parade, a Kid Zone and children's games. An estimated 3,000-4,000 people attended the 2019 festival.
Square Dancing Canceled
Copeland said it was a unanimous decision by the Lions Club to cancel square dancing.
"You can't square dance without touching people," Copeland said last week. "Right now with the restrictions in place, square dancing could not happen."
According to the Facebook post, the club canceled due to the current restrictions and prohibitions in place on outdoor venues and close-contact activities and also in concern for the health of the participants, audience and general public.
Copeland said the club didn't want to wait on making a decision in hopes some of the restrictions would be lifted by Labor Day weekend.
He pointed out square dancing requires time, effort and money for those families involved. The Lions Club didn't want to go ahead with the event and then "have the rug pulled out from under us," he said.
Before making a decision, Copeland said the committee sought input from the community. Comments were split with about half in favor of canceling and half in favor of going ahead as scheduled.
Those who wanted to cancel looked at it from the health standpoint, he said. Those who wanted to have square dancing said it would be unfair to the kids.
Copeland said the idea has been floated around by some members to possibly have some type of square dancing event later in the year or next spring. Another idea, he said, is to extend the eligibility for those teenagers who want to come back and participate in 2021.
Clothesline Fair Discussion
For the Clothesline Fair itself, Copeland said the Lions Club will discuss that at its July 7 meeting. Any decisions will be made in concert with officials at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park, he added.
"My preference is that we hold off on it until the state tells us we can't do it. That's my position. I don't know what the club will decide," Copeland said, adding, "The Clothesline Fair has gone on for a very long time. It would be a real shame to cancel it too early."
Copeland said he believes there's a way the Clothesline Fair can happen under the current guidelines issued by the state health department for large venue events.
"I don't see it as an impossibility," Copeland said "It would look different and cause more work but it's within the realm under the current directives."
Copeland said some changes might be spreading out the vendors to meet physical distance requirements, requiring face coverings and health screenings.
The Lions Club would have to submit a plan to the health department to receive a permit for the event, Copeland said.
The discussion will include, Copeland said, the general public health of an event that attracts thousands of people to Prairie Grove.
The Arts Center of the Ozarks, which coordinates the craft vendor part of the Clothesline Fair, has encouraged the Lions Club to cancel but that's more because the organization is not sure that it has the staff for it right now, Copeland said.
"For me, I'm proceeding with a little team to be prepared to do something with or without the arts center. Our intention to have a plan ready to give the club on July 7 to show this is how we would do it, and with input from the department of health that yes we can do it under this plan," Copeland said.
Another big part of the Clothesline Fair is the Saturday morning parade sponsored by Prairie Grove Chamber of Commerce. Chamber President Dale Reed said the chamber has not made a decision on the parade but is waiting on a decision about the Clothesline Fair. While the parade has many participants, most of the entries are floats that carry square dance groups.