Bridge festival complicated by storm

Community members look forward to the annual covered bridge festivals. This year, however, the amount of rain that Greene County received in the past few weeks presented a problem for the festivals.

The flooding was too extensive on the grounds of the White Covered Bridge in Garards Fort, Greene County. Because of that, this year’s festival, which was supposed to occur Sept. 15, was canceled. The water was two and a half feet high on the festival grounds, according to Richard Clark, member of the board for the White Covered Bridge Association.

“I went out and looked at it, and then I called the board members and advised them of what the conditions were,” Clark said.

Pat Walko, executive director for the White Covered Bridge Association, said the grounds committee made the decision last Monday afternoon to cancel.

“The festival grounds were completely underwater,” Walko said.

White Covered Bridge was not the only festival to be affected by the heavy rainfall: four other events around Greene and Washington Counties were also canceled due to flooding. Conversely, other covered bridge locations experienced nothing but sunshine, like Henry Bridge in Mingo Creek Park and Carmichaels Covered Bridge. With little to no flood damage, vendors set up shop in the park for their annual tradition.

Walko and Clark contacted the venders and those participating in the White Covered Bridge event right away to tell them about the cancellation. The set-up fees the vendors paid will be applied to the vendor’s registration for next year.

“It’s just a safety factor for everybody,” said Clark. “We’re out in the middle of nowhere and we don’t have paved roads or anything like that going in and out of the grounds, so if it starts getting flooded, it can be a situation where it’s a battle to get into the place or a battle to get out of it.”

For Clark, informing those who enjoy the festival and travel a long way to see it was particularly disheartening.

“The hardest part was letting everybody know and the disappointment,” Walko said.

Walko said the situation went far smoother than when the festival was cancelled due to hurricane Ivan in 2004. According to Walko, the floodwaters came the night before that year’s festival, putting many of the vendor’s setups under water.

“There was a lot of loss. The most positive thing I can see this time is that we had a few days notice,” Walko said, “So at least there wasn’t any loss of property because we had time to contact everyone and let them know.”

According to Walko,  since the festival started in 1998, there have only been two years before this one that it was cancelled: 2004, and 2001, due to the events of Sept. 11.  

Clark said that that the board may soon discuss whether to create a backup plan for next year, in case flooding strikes again.

“We’re going to try for next year, before now and then, to try to come up with a contingency plan in case this happens again, so we’ll have something to fall back to,” he said.

Next year is an important year for the White Covered Bridge, as it marks the bridge’s 100th anniversary.

“We are at this point planning for a really big birthday party for the bridge,” Walko said.