THORNVILLE — As coronavirus (COVID-19) still increases in the state, more organizations are having to either alter or cancel events due to guidelines involving social distancing. The 26th Annual Backwoods Fest is another victim of the pandemic as it announced its cancelation last week.

On Wednesday, July 24, a social media page for the Backwoods Fest announced that its scheduled event for Sept. 18 through Sept. 20 would be canceled due to COVID-19 after state and local entities placed bans on mass gatherings.

Due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the safety of those who attend is too much of a risk even with simple safety measures. The venue heard concerns from local and state health officials, departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which influenced the decision to not have the event take place this year.

The venue scheduled a show full of vendors who were willing to move forward with the event. Organizers thanked all the vendors who applied to be at the event, adding that the decision to cancel was a hard one to make.

Further, it was stated on the venue’s Facebook page that the decision was out of their hands as the Ohio and Perry County Health departments had the final say in the cancelation. Organizers hope to schedule the event next year.

Kathy Launder, owner of the venue that holds the festival, stated that the event is typically “huge” and has been for the last 25 years. The average attendance can equate to roughly 30,000 people over the three-day period.

Launder stated that she had 300 vendors set to also attend the set up shop at her venue. Like many, she and many others were hopeful that the pandemic would subside closer to the fall; however, quite the opposite has taken place throughout the country.

Many of the vendors were scheduled from several neighboring states. Launder stated that vendors from 19 states were expected to be a part of the festival.

“We continued on, but things change daily in this world right now,” Launder told The Perry County Tribune.

She said that recently she received a call from the Perry County Health Department requesting to speak with her about the event. As part of the state’s orders to limit mass gatherings, the Backwoods Fest is seen as a non-essential event.

“Even though flea markets are essential, I didn’t feel like I could play the game and switch and call us a flea market,” Launder explained. “As of right now, there are some Ohio shows that are continuing on that haven’t canceled yet.”

The venue owner added that she explained to the local health department that some other events are still scheduled to take place.

“You know, fair is fair, it should be fair across the State of Ohio not just some counties,” Launder commented.

She stated that while she was disheartened by the department’s decision to cancel the event entirely, she understands the risk and does not want anyone to get ill as a result of attending.

The festival is Launder’s family’s livelihood as she stated they are expected to lose a lot of money as a result of sudden cancelation. The event typically hires over 100 people from the county.

“It is our business,” Launder said. “It has been our business for 25 years… and the government… didn’t allow it.”

Launder shared a letter she received on July 29 from the Perry County Health Department which details a phone conversation between her and Health Commissioner Angela DeRolph on July 27. After DeRolph consulted with the Ohio Department of Health, she said that “the 2020 Backwoods Fest shall remain closed as it would violate the Director’s updated and revised order of business guidance and social distancing.”

According to DeRolph, she provided details and references as it pertains to the new guidance from the state. On page one, point three of the new orders, it states that mass gatherings of more than 10 people who are outside of a single household are prohibited except for limited purposes.

On page four of the orders, point nine details that entertainment and recreation events and venues are to remain closed which includes festivals.

“We appreciate your support and the difficult decision that you made to help keep Perry County residents safe,” DeRolph wrote.

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