Expanded boundaries for the Autumn Leaves Festival have received official approval — as the specter of COVID-19 and its recent surges continue to loom over large gatherings like a dark cloud.
“I think we’re all excited about — hopefully if things don’t get too bad — having a festival,” Mayor Ron Niland said during an Aug. 19 meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners when that action affecting the city’s largest annual event occurred unanimously.
It involved amending the city Code of Ordinances to incorporate an enlarging of the festival layout north from the previous boundary at Independence Boulevard to Rawley Avenue amid a cluster of banks. This coincided with a decision to move the festival bandstand to that location from East Independence Boulevard for safety reasons.
While this change actually was implemented for the festival in October 2018, it had not been formally included in the Code of Ordinances, which the commissioners did at their last meeting after a public hearing required for such moves was conducted.
“We are so happy we can resume our festival this year,” local resident Carol Burke said during the hearing in reference to the event being cancelled in 2020 by the coronavirus.
Last week’s meeting seemed to be surrounded by an air of uncertainty given the lingering concerns over recent surges in COVID-19 cases with the emergence of the delta variant of the virus, amid increased hospitalizations.
But for right now, organizers are proceeding with plans for this year’s Autumn Leaves Festival on Oct. 8-10.
“Obviously, we’re monitoring what’s going on with COVID,” said Randy Collins of the organization that spearheads the longtime event, the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce.
Collins, the chamber’s president and CEO, added Thursday that everyone has been proceeding in recent months under the belief that the festival won’t be derailed again by COVID.
In 2020, the regulatory culprit for that was a ban on mass gatherings by Gov. Roy Cooper, which later was lifted and allowed such events to resume this past spring.
“So as long as the governor doesn’t make any changes,” Collins said the chamber is confident about the return of the Autumn Leaves Festival for 2021. “So we’re going on that basis.”
The chamber is staying in touch with local health officials as part of its plans, according to Collins.
There have already been some effects accompanying the scenario at hard.
“We’ve lost a few of our vendors,” Collins said, which has occurred due either to retirements of festival craft exhibitors or the fact they don’t “feel comfortable.” This included some older individuals at highest risk for COVID-19.
Collins says that trend also is being seen with similar events elsewhere.