RUSH SPRINGS — Every summer for more than seven decades, thousands have flocked to Rush Springs for a juicy fruit festival like no other. But this year, folks will have to get their watermelon fix elsewhere.
The Rush Springs Lions Club announced recently it would cancel this year’s Rush Springs Watermelon Festival and Rodeo, in light of social distancing recommendations due to the COVID-19 health crisis.
Mary Hill is chair for this year’s festival, which was scheduled for Aug. 8.
“Obviously it was a very difficult decision to make,” Hill said. “This has been a tradition for over 75 years.”
The Lions Club has contacted local business, nonprofit and civic leaders over the last week to let them know of the cancelation.
“There are a lot of people who depend on this festival locally, as far as cash flow is concerned,” Hill said.
Local businesses, from bed and breakfasts to restaurants, are now anticipating the hit.
“It’s going to have a big economic impact,” Hill said. “The entire week of the rodeo and Watermelon Festival is a very busy week in Rush Springs.”
Hill said the event cancelation means likely no annual class reunions or yard sales, which Rush Springs residents typically align with the Watermelon Festival.
“It’s also a huge time of fundraising for our school organizations,” said Hill, adding that the Rush Springs FFA and high school sports teams and student council often raise support for their activities at the festival. “We’re very sad they won’t be able to do that.”
Local producers also will have to find new ways to move their melons, since they won’t be able to sell watermelons, cantaloupes and other fresh fruits and vegetables at the festival.
“They all have different avenues for their produce, so it’s not like they won’t be able to move it,” Hill said, “but it’s just the fact that the day of the festival is a tremendously big day for them.”
Each year, Rush Springs crowns a Watermelon Queen to represent the town and the festival in the weeks and months leading up to the big day. This year’s coronation event was canceled, but not before six girls had already signed up to vie for the title.
“We were really excited to have so many this year,” Hill said. “It’s disheartening they won’t be able to do that. It’s a really great group of young ladies.”
Ultimately, Hill said the cancelation in no way diminishes the Watermelon Festival’s commitment to the community.
“We are concerned for the well-being of the Rush Springs community,” Hill said. “That’s always first and foremost on our minds.”
Next year’s Watermelon Festival is scheduled for the second Saturday in August 2021.
“The plan for next year is to make 2021 as big as ever,” Hill said. “And hopefully, with (the cancelation), there’s some awareness brought to additional needs we have, as far as manpower and the financial side of what it takes to actually pull this off.”
According to Hill, the event’s volunteer numbers have decreased over the last few years.
“I hope this increases awareness and encourages more people to choose to be involved in the future,” Hill said.