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Sun shines on open-air CulpeperFest 2020
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Sun shines on open-air CulpeperFest 2020

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COVID-19 be damned, area businesses and nonprofit groups turned out in droves for 2020’s Culpeper Fest, which was hosted outdoors Friday at Eastern View High School by the Culpeper Chamber of Commerce.

Perfect weather provided a gorgeous afternoon and evening for the annual get-together.

“It really came together well,” chamber President Jeff Say said. “So many different people and businesses pitched in to help. It is wonderful how everyone came together for this.”

Some 65 vendors participated, setting booths and pop-up tents all around the track in Cyclone Stadium. Germanna Community College lent the chamber 45 tables. Culpeper United Methodist Church provided another 36 tables, and chairs were borrowed from other entities.

Counting the public as well as vendors, about 750 people participated.

“This is evidence again of the Culpeper community coming together to make good happen,” Say said. “Our neighbors shared stories, learned about businesses and nonprofits, and connected despite a pandemic. I’m so proud of Culpeper and the response we received. It’s a true testament to the resilience of our community.”

The area’s largest business expo, celebrating its 40th anniversary, had been scheduled for June 12 at Germanna Community College’s Daniel Technology Center, with more than 125 businesses and a full, live band. But then the virus hit.

To stem spread of the novel coronavirus, all of theFriday festival’s foot traffic walked one way through the stadium, going around the track lined with booths. People spread out, and everyone wore masks. Hand sanitizer and bottled water was easily available, with food trucks and emergency workers on hand.

For Gisela Carper, owner of Oma’s Creative Corner, the event was a novelty.

“This is our first time for CulpeperFest,” Carper said, explaining that she opened her shop off Main Street near the elections office in December, but then had to close because of the statewide lockdown for the virus. “We’ve been working hard all day, and it’s been good so far.”

Carper and employee Tiffany Freeman sell decorative items for people’s homes. As Virginia eased COVID-19 restrictions, they reopened the downtown shop on July 29, 2020.

Julia Gordon attended with her friend Jennell Pollard, an annual tradition for them.

“We like to come every year. We almost didn’t come because of the virus and everything,” Gordon said. “But we love to see the new businesses and all the giveaways! We never knew anything about Verdun before, that was new. Also, it was interesting to talk to the folks at United HealthCare. That was new.

“I like how spread out it is; I hope they do it here again,” she said.

As people entered the stadium, they were greeted by Chamber of Commerce staff members and volunteers, as well as Culpeper resident Tisha Downing, Mrs. Virginia American Elegance 2020.

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Down the track a bit, Robert Haynes found himself a big hit with attendees because of the feathered company he kept. Haynes introduced people to a great horned owl named Freitas as well as to a falcon. He makes presentations to students at schools and all kinds of other gatherings for EarthQuest Inc., a Georgia-based nonprofit that employs birds of prey to educate people about wildlife’s struggle with humans’ modern civilization.

Haynes, a native of Rapidan in Culpeper County, is the group’s director of operations. He is opening a satellite office on a Rapidan farm to care for more raptors that can’t return to the wild.

It was his first time doing CulpeperFest. Amy Frazier, the chamber’s events coordinator, urged Haynes and his family to come and be part of it. His mother, Susan, is the wildlife nonprofit’s chief financial officer.

At the Verdun Adventure Bound booth, Sean McElhinney was happy to take part in another year’s festival.

McElhinney, the local nonprofit’s executive director, said by about 7 p.m. he had already handed out all of the flyers he brought.

“It’s been really great to see everyone,” he said. “We’ve had a booth at CulpeperFest for the past couple years, and we’ve always thought it was worth it.”

Operating on a farm in Rixeyville, the outdoor team-building facility and youth retreat center has changed countless lives for the better.

This year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Verdun is offering child care during the school day.

That’s going well, McElhinney said.

So far this school year, Verdun sees 17 kids on its busiest day, and seven on its slowest, he said.

“We set the max at 40, and we’re not there yet,” McElhinney said. “But it’s been good. It’s kept us in business.”

Julie Muncy of Muncy’s Munchies was taking part in her first CulpeperFest.

Muncy, a veteran who served 20 years in the Marine Corps, makes brownies, fudge and dessert toppings at her home for both dogs and people.

“I thought it would be a good place to try to get my name out there,” she said. “The chamber has been wonderful to work with. Their communication has been great, making sure we had everything we needed. It’s been a good experience.”

Say, the chamber’s chief, said Amy Frazier worked tirelessly to make the business group’s first COVID-era festival happen. He also credited CulpeperFest committee members led by Marshall Keene, including Ian Chini, Jon Carter, Mike Jenkins and Sandy Connor.

“A big shout-out to (Culpeper County Public Schools superintendent) Dr. Tony Brads,” Say added. “Without him, this never could have happened.”

“We went to him and explained what we needed, we all discussed our concerns.” he said. “We looked at his mitigation plan for the virus, he looked at ours, and we all came up with something that could work, where everyone would be safe and still be able to have this event.”

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Clint Schemmer, a journalist since 1980, has worked at papers in California, North Carolina and Virginia. He’s been a bureau chief, editorial-page editor, copy desk chief and local news editor. Now a staff writer at the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

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