By Ashley Rader
For her first meeting as director of the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce, Tonya Stevens discussed plans with the board of directors for the 2013 Covered Bridge Celebration, which will now be held the second week in June.
The meeting was the first for Stevens, who joined the Chamber as its new director Sept. 10. She is a 1999 graduate of Milligan College and previously worked at Mountain States Health Alliance for 14 years, most recently as advocate and guest relations coordinator.
“Tonya is a tremendous asset and will be a good resource for the Chamber,” said Chamber President Chandrea Shell. “She was the top candidate from a very strong pool of applicants.”
The Chamber started working early in the year to plan the Covered Bridge Celebration after the festival resulted in a net loss of revenue this year. The 2012 Covered Bridge Celebration ended with a loss of $4,208. The loss of revenue was credited to a decline in sponsorships and a purchase of resale collectible items that were not purchased by visitors to the festival.
The Covered Bridge Celebration Planning Committee has already made some decisions that will change the festival. The celebration will be held one week later than it has in previous years. Instead of being the first week of June, the festival will now be held June 12-15, the second week of June. Committee Chairman Chris Mathes said the date was changed so the Covered Bridge Celebration would not conflict with the Blue Plum Festival or the Rhododendron Festival.
The festival is also being extended back to its original four days, which means it will run from Wednesday through Saturday night. Wednesday night will now be church night. Mathes said churches were welcome to participate and stage time would be available in hour increments for praise and worship music performances or sermons. Thursday night will feature bluegrass music. Friday and Saturday night will be country and rock nights.
Because the festival has been expanded to four days instead of three, the committee has agreed a raise in vendor application fees would be appropriate. Members have not yet agreed to what the increased amount would be or when the change would take effect.
Richard Tester questioned the reasoning behind expanding the festival to four days. He asked if it was a good idea to make the Covered Bridge Celebration bigger if it was losing money as a three-day event.
Mathes said the committee was confident the festival would make money next year. He said last year was unique because the loss in revenue came from increased entertainment expenses and a purchase of resale items that the public did not want.
“We will be raising the vendor fees and we hope the extra night will bring in more sponsorships,” Mathes said. “We did lose $1,900 on cups that no one bought. We also had higher entertainment costs. We don’t plan on losing that much again.”
Covered Bridge Committee member Sherry Starnes said the festival this year did have one of the largest crowds in recent years and the public consistently attended each night. She volunteered at Kids Island and said the children’s area was busier than it had ever been.
Chamber Events and Marketing Coordinator Stephanie McKinney gave an update on the Conservation Camp for area fourth-grade students that was held Monday. She said it was a good event and the students enjoyed the event. She said there were 11 presenters and five schools that participated with 260 students registered for the camp.
The Chamber Golf Tournament will be held Friday, Sept. 28, with a shotgun start at 1 p.m. Golf teams can still register for the tournament at the Chamber.
Stevens gave a brief update on happenings at the Chamber of Commerce. She informed the board the Chamber would be getting new telephone and Internet service. She said the Chamber had been having issues with communication. She said there had been times when customers had not been able to reach the Chamber because of the malfunctioning phones or Internet. Also, the Chamber’s website will be redesigned to be better user friendly.