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Mountain Masters event canceled due to rise in COVID-19 cases

Over the past three decades, the Festival of the Mountain Masters has taken place during the holiday season to promote local artisans and flood Harlan County with the Christmas spirit. In 2020, however, Harlan Tourism Executive Director Brandon Pennington said the event needed to be canceled to protect the health and safety of the community while COVID-19 cases continued to spike.

In a Facebook post, Pennington explained the situation to locals, noting it was in the best interest of vendors, community, even staff and festival partons to cancel the 2020 Festival of the Mountain Masters, which had originally been thoroughly thought out with the help of the Harlan County Health Department and other local officials to ensure the safety of those in attendance.

“We sat down with the Health Department to talk to them about regulations and how we could potentially have the festival in person, but as this year has continued on and the cases are increasing significantly, we just don’t feel like we can safely do it,” Pennington said.

Before the event was canceled, Pennington said he and his team planned on creating a one-way flow of visitors. Those coming to the Mountain Masters market at the Harlan Center would be directed through the doors at the top of the building, filtering down through the halls where tape on the floor outlined how traffic was supposed to flow.

Bathrooms would also be made for families only, which would have been cleaned thoroughly with disinfectant after each use.

“We were looking to hire on more staff, more security, more cleaning detail, just for one event. We were planning on doing that still until the significant increase in cases,” he said.

Pennington said it is something that has occurred throughout the tourism industry, where other welcome centers and event planners have had to adapt and find ways to accommodate everything that is happening met with CDC guidelines. Nearly everything done in tourism is a type of gathering, posing challenges to securing the health of each guest to those events, Pennington explained.

“Even our strongest safety measures are no match for the dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases,” he said. “We firmly believe that caution and prevention now move us closer to a time without COVID-19.”

Pennington said in support of the vendors who would normally set up at the Village Center Mall to showcase their craftsmanship, Harlan Tourism will be featuring their handmade items on the Visit Harlan County Facebook page, along with information on how to purchase them from the comfort of their home.

“We know this is disappointing news, but we are willing to sacrifice one event if it means that our friends and neighbors will remain healthy enough to celebrate many more Festivals of the Mountain Masters in the years to come,” he said.

Follow the Visit Harlan County Facebook page to stay updated on the virtual Mountain Masters market or call the Harlan Center at 606-573-4495 for more details.

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