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County reflects on 2020 loss of Watermelon Festival

The Franklin County Watermelon Festival has been a beacon in Franklin County for the past 39 years, but this year will look different, with the festival being cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Franklin County Chamber of Commerce coordinates the festival each year, and chamber board member Emily Mays said after putting so much time into the Watermelon Festival, it feels surreal to know the festival is not happening this year.

“The Watermelon Festival brings a sense of tradition to our county,” Mays said. “For the past 39 years this festival has grown, improved and changed, but the tradition of coming together has always remained the same. I think that is the hardest part – knowing that the tradition is put on hold this year for our communities and our visitors to Franklin County.”

Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Director Cassie Medley said the Watermelon Festival brings a lot to the area by attracting locals and tourists together for a day of excitement.

“It will not be the same this year without the Watermelon Festival,” Medley said.

Medley said the chamber is pretty much continually preparing for the Watermelon Festival, starting preparations for the next year almost as soon as one festival finishes.

Mays said having to always be thinking about the next year’s festival makes not planning for the festival right now feel strange.

“You could say we are kind of always in Watermelon Festival planning mode,” Mays said. “To suddenly have that halted is very surreal.”

Mays said choosing to cancel the Watermelon Festival was a difficult decision because of how big of a tradition it is in the county. “Like many of the other events and sports we’ve been without this year, it feels like traditions are being broken in some way,” Mays said. “But the safety and health of everyone is what is most important. Everyone is making difficult decisions during this time, and we have to keep the big picture in mind.”

Russellville Mayor David Grissom said it will be strange not seeing downtown fill with people for the Watermelon Festival.

“The Watermelon Festival is such a big part of Russellville and Franklin County,” Grissom said. “So much has been canceled due to the coronavirus this year.”

Grissom said he will miss getting to talk to everyone at the Watermelon Festival and the sense of community it brings.

Franklin County Extension Director Katernia Cole-Coffey said she has enjoyed getting to host the Watermelon Festival contests for the past 12 years and looks forward to what future years will bring.

“We are so thankful to be a part of the Watermelon Festival and enjoy it every year,” Cole-Coffey said.

The Watermelon Festival is a great marketing tool for Franklin County as well, Cole-Coffey pointed out, drawing people from all over the see the Watermelon Capital.

“Even though corona has put a kink in our plans for the 2020 Watermelon Festival, we know that the 2021 festival will be even better,” Cole-Coffey said.

Medley said not having festival this year will be a big hit to the local economy, given the number of tourists who usually come to Franklin County for the festival.

Mays agreed, adding that not having the festival will add to the negative economic effect the county is already feeling because of the pandemic.

“We are all just trying to do our best to make the best decisions for everyone,” Mays said. “The Watermelon Festival will be missed this year by a lot of people, but we know it is for the best.”

Medley said she knows canceling the festival this year does not mean the end of a tradition and promises the Watermelon Festival will be back better than ever.