Virus strikes big Lenoir City events

Lukah Haldis looks at metal yard art during last year’s Lenoir City Arts & Crafts Festival.

A pair of big annual events in Lenoir City have been called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lenoir City Parks and Recreation Department canceled the May Rockin’ the Docks that for years has brought in thousands of people from the area.

“We just thought it was still (too early),” Zack Cusick, Lenoir City parks and recreation coordinator, said. “We’d love to have the event, obviously, bring the community and let them enjoy the great day and remembering the veterans and everything that goes on with doing these, but we just felt it was too close to during this time to push for that big of an event, especially with different orders. I don’t think executive order 30 had come out yet but it would have probably outlawed us to do that anyway.

“We still feel like it was the safest decision to go ahead and cancel it instead of trying to have it and have thousands of people on land and on boat to really be a good thing with everything going on with COVID-19,” he added.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Rockin’ the Docks in Lenoir City. For now, plans are to move forward with the July 4 Rockin’ the Docks. Cusick hopes to make a decision about a month out.

For now, he is cautiously optimistic.

“We’ve spoken to a couple of medical professionals that believe in the summer, particularly the heat and the summer out on time, even if the virus is still around at that time, that it would not be able to last very long on surfaces and, obviously, if it comes down to it we can try to do social distancing and maybe limit the amount of people around each other. For us right now we’re moving forward as planned,” he said.

This is the first time Cusick can remember Rockin’ being canceled except for weather.

“We’ve had a couple of cases throughout the 20 years where it may have rained us out maybe once or twice, but then we still had at least some kind of live music and fireworks maybe the next day when it was sunny and good enough weather for us to shoot off,” he said. “We’ve had a couple in the past where we’ve maybe had to push a little early when we could see the radar and know when a big storm is coming, maybe push the fireworks up a little bit to just to have it that time, but as far as I know this is the only one that we’ve just outright canceled.”

He believes the cancellation could have a “pretty big hit” on the local economy.

“Through people that I’ve talked to over the years that come to the event, a lot of them come outside of the Knoxville area,” Cusick said. “Even a few groups come from out of state to where they’re coming in to see friends and family during the long weekend and they always come to the Rockin’ the Docks show even if it’s by land or if they’ve got friends and family that have boats and they’re on the water. So there’s quite a few people that come in to see this show and I don’t know how big of an impact it will have not having the first one, but as far as the tax revenue off of gas, off of restaurants, off of potentially hotels from people coming in, I know that will be some kind of impact.”

The annual Lenoir City Arts and Crafts Festival in June has also been canceled.

“I’ve been in close contact with ladies of the Suburbia Women’s Club and they were kind of wanting to have it because that’s a huge fundraiser for them to bring money into their club and they could then return that money into the community someway through either school scholarships or other kind of donations that they could give out through the community,” Cusick said. “It’s a huge hit for them, but everything and all these decisions are not taken lightly at all. It’s a huge burden to try to cancel such a great event like the arts and crafts festival and Rockin’ the Docks, but it’s ultimately the safest decisions that we can think of to help the community and hopefully still flatten the curve and still get out of the COVID-19 and not hurt the community in those ways.”

The decision to cancel came about a week ago, Jody Cusick, GFWC Surbubia Women’s Club festival entries chairwoman, said.

“The government guidelines are such that they’re not really wanting large gatherings and this is a rather large gathering,” she said. “We have to bus people in, so we have a lot of people busing in close proximity. We really didn’t want to because we’ve done a lot of work, time and effort into it already, but we did go ahead and cancel it. It’s unfortunate because a lot of our crafters, we have a few that that’s their only source of income and of course everything’s been canceled. We’re hopeful that we can have it next year.”

This is the 58th year the women’s club has held the festival, and it serves as the group’s only fundraiser.

“We had a number of vendors that were coming, I already had probably 150 signed up and still had them coming in. I had to just decline everybody,” she said.

About 80 crafters have already said they will be back next year.

Hopes are to hold a harvest festival Oct. 10 at the War Memorial Building. A time is unknown. More information may be available in August.

“We’re going to try to make it fun for the community,” Jody said. “It’ll help the crafters out. Some of them maybe will have Christmas stuff and things like that out.”

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