Hundreds gathered in Covered Bridge Park in Elizabethton during the last day of the Covered Bridge Celebration Saturday. (Photos by Max Hrenda/Johnson City Press)
ELIZABETHTON — On Saturday, according to Google, the sun came up at approximately 6:11 a.m.
That means some of the organizers, vendors and participants in the final day of Elizabethton’s signature annual event were out and about before the sun poked out over the horizon.
On Saturday, some people came out as early as 6 a.m. to participate in an array of activities offered on the last day of the 48th annual Covered Bridge Celebration.
According to Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tonya Stevens, who organized the celebration, there was no shortage of activities to be found as the event entered its last day.
“We’ve had a pretty steady crowd all morning,” Stevens said. “We have had lots of stuff going all day long.”
The day began with a 5K run and a 3K walk at 8 a.m., after registration for the two events began 90 minutes earlier at 6:30 a.m. When the two races began at 8, registration began for the celebration’s fifth annual Kids’ Catfish Tournament, which took place at the pond in front of the Workforce Development Complex at 386 Stoney Creek Highway.
According to Carter County Tomorrow President Tom Anderson, who also helped organize the celebration, 250 children and their relatives made appearances for the competition.
“There were hundreds of parents and grandparents who were there with their children,” Anderson said. “It turned out to be a great family event.”
Age didn’t appear to be a factor in the event, either. According to Anderson, 5-year-olds Damean Lane and Jade Kuhn, who competed in the 0-5 year age group, each reeled in the day’s biggest catch with two 23 1/2-inch catfish. In the 6-9 age group, 8-year-old Freddy Jackson brought in the biggest fish at 26 inches, while 6-year-old Bryceon Pierce led the division in caught fish with six. The 10-12 age group featured 12-year-old McKayla Hamm with the largest fish at 25 1/2 inches, while Kendall Bare, 10, led the group with 10 fish.
Before the tournament started, however, across the street at the Elizabethton Municipal Airport visitors could purchase plane rides to catch a bird’s eye view of the festivities, along with the surrounding area. Though he was unsure how many participated at the airport, Anderson said the airplane traffic was constant during the catfish tournament.
“They were flying over us all morning,” Anderson said.
In addition to racing, fishing and flying, the celebration also offered shopping as a recreational outlet in the form of the E Street Yard Sale, which took place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Along with adults, children were also offered an array of activities. In addition to the catfish tournament, children participated in the Little Mr. & Miss Hillbilly Contest, a pageant in which boys and girls adorned their most “redneck” attire to take home the crown. Kids were also granted refuge on Kids Island, which featured inflatables, gaming booths and rides. According to Stevens, Kids Island, which was set up on Edwards Island Park, was one of the day’s more popular attractions.
“Kids Island has been hopping all day,” Stevens said.
While the last day of Covered Bridge offered no shortage of activities, the most popular attraction may have been located at the intersection of East Elk Avenue and Main Street, where the main stage was erected. According to Sheriff Chris Mathes, who chairs the chamber’s entertainment committee, music remains one of the celebration’s biggest draws.
“People come in for the bands and groups,” he said. “It makes a big difference.”
As committee chair, Mathes said, part of his job is booking musical acts for the celebration. In searching out those acts, he said, he and the Chamber try to create a good mix of local and nationally recognized talent.
“We try to really take folks here in Carter County who are very talented and combine that with big acts from other places,” Mathes said.
For the 48th Covered Bridge Celebration, Mathes said he thought they had achieved that goal.
“Russell Moore (who performed Thursday) is the five-time International Bluegrass Music Association vocalist of the year,” he said. “When Adkins & Loudermilk played here (Thursday), they have the number one bluegrass single in the nation. And then, last night, we had The Twang Bangers. All five of them are from the Tri-Cities, and two of them are from right here in Carter County. So we’ve had a really good mix.”
To complement a good mix of performers, Stevens said the celebration also received help from a good mix of sponsors. One of those sponsors, CenturyLink, even provided a method for vendors to expand their business options.
“They have put up a section of Wi-Fi for not just the patrons ... but for the vendors, as well, that is password protected,” she said. “They can easily take credit cards on their wireless device. A lot of people don’t carry cash anymore. We made it a little bit easier on the vendors who want to take credit cards. CenturyLink was very, very generous in offering that to us this year.”
Saturday closed with a classic rock performance by Brad Puckett. Though this year’s festival has come to an end, Stevens said planning for future events has already begun.
“We’ve got a great community that looks forward to this event every year,” she said. “So we start planning right away for the next year.”
Additionally, Stevens said she and other organizers are looking two years into the future, as the celebration’s 50th anniversary looms.
“We want to make that a big celebration,” she said.
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