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OPINION: Plans by Damascus for Trail Days in May give us a ray of hope

OPINION: Plans by Damascus for Trail Days in May give us a ray of hope

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Getting back to “normal” — whatever that turns out to be — as (hopefully) the coronavirus pandemic wanes is undoubtedly in the front of most people’s minds after nearly a year of chaos as the virus raged.

As more people get vaccinated, and hospitalizations and death rates continue to fall in many areas, the increasing possibility of at least a gradual return to our regular routines gives us hope.

There are indications that some form of normal is on the way back. People are again enjoying spending leisure time at places such as the Coomes Recreation Center in Abingdon, which reopened in the fall — with virus restrictions in place — after being shut down for more than six months.

Some venues such as farmers markets are back, new retail businesses are popping up, and there are signs that some of the popular festivals and other recreational events that were canceled last year might be able to resume this year.

For instance, the town of Damascus already is planning to hold its (usually) annual Trail Days event in May, according to a recent story by Joe Tennis. The virus knocked the event off the calendar in 2020.

This news comes even as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy continues to urge thru-hikers to stay off the trail to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

“As it stands now, we are planning Trail Days as if it were going to happen in May,” Trail Days chairwoman and Damascus council member Susan Coleman told the newspaper.

“I think hikers are still going to continue to hike,” she said. “I just don’t think the amount of hikers will be as much as it has been in the past.”

It’s no secret that there’s a pent-up demand for events such as Trail Days to resume this year, and this most likely won’t be the only one to try to push ahead in spite of any continuing threats from the coronavirus.

Whether the Damascus event actually occurs won’t be decided for a few weeks, but town officials plan to be ready anyway.

There are some good reasons for going ahead with planning. Although to some people the virus outlook might still look bleak, there are signs of improvement, and no one knows right now what May will be like. Because events such as this do take a lot of planning, it’s pretty much now or never to get the ball rolling.

Plans now call for Damascus to stage two of its popular events in May — the Town-Wide Yard Sale on May 8 and Trail Days from May 14 to May 16.

The story noted that the Trail Days festival usually features a parade, auction, workshops and lectures, music and other activities during its three-day run and that it has drawn as many as 20,000 people in past years. Much of the attendance comes from people driving to town for the event, rather than just walking in from the trail.

That kind of attendance probably won’t happen this year, with COVID-19 concerns and social distancing protocols curbing some of the usual enthusiasm.

“It would be a smaller Trail Days,” Coleman said. “I think people are still going to come out. They come down to have a reunion. It’s not just people who are coming down the trail now who are going to meet up in Damascus. In May, there are a lot more other people who want to come other than hikers.”

She also said that usually indoors events such as workshops and lectures will be moved outside this year.

As in many Southwest Virginia communities that have popular annual festivals, Trail Days is important for the town and its businesses.

It’s a natural complement to the Appalachian Trail itself, which runs through Damascus, cutting through the town park and following the sidewalks along U.S. 58 in the eastern Washington County, Virginia, town, the story noted.

The event brought the town government more than $37,000 in revenue in 2018, according to Damascus Treasurer Eva Meyer, and it’s an important money generator for businesses throughout the town.

The final decision on whether to move forward will come by the end of March, Coleman said.

And you can bet that there are organizers of other, similar events normally scheduled during the summer and fall who will be keeping their eyes on whether Damascus decides to move forward with Trail Days this year.

Let’s hope this event and others we missed out on last year will be able to return for 2021. But we also want to make sure that events such as this one can be carried out safely.

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