Cotton Gin Festival parade from 2019

The annual Cotton Gin Festival is slated to return on Saturday, October after last year’s hiatus. The festival will tighten parade participation regulations and will offer attendees the opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

For more than 30 years, Bostwick’s Cotton Gin Festival has celebrated the town’s history and legacy with a popular outdoor celebration featuring a tractor parade, drawing thousands to streets of the historic city.

This year, the festival returns Saturday, Oct. 23 with a few changes in the works. Festival organizers are tightening up the requirements to participate in the parade, asking everyone to comply with a few simple rules to enhance the safety of this year’s festival. This year, anyone wishing to drive a tractor in the parade must be at least 16-years-old and have a valid driver’s license.

“Safety is our top priority,” said Angie Howard, one of the festival’s organizers.

There is no fee to participate in the parade. However, all parade participants must register for liability purposes. You can register on the day of the festival or pre-register.

Any automobiles in the parade must be vintage (25 years or older and in restored condition). This year, no golf carts, four-wheelers, gators, or lawn mowers will be allowed in the parade. Animals will also not be allowed this year.

“While we love them, it has become too much to manage,” said Howard.

“Enjoy the day, but be safe. Follow the guidelines set forth if you wish to participate in the parade. Come out and participate. We are excited to be back.”

Last year the Cotton Gin Festival was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. City leaders hope to provide a vital public service as the pandemic continues to attendees by offering COVID-19 vaccinations during the outdoor Fall festival.

“We are partnering with the Morgan County Health Department who will provide COVID-19 vaccines for anyone who want to get one,” said Angie Howard, chair of the Cotton Gin Festival committee. “I want to be clear, we are not requiring vaccinations, or masks, but we want to do our part to make the vaccine available and accessible to anyone who feels they need to get it. If you don’t believe in getting it, then so be it. But we want to give everyone the chance to take precaution. We are trying to be proactive.”

Howard said the festival will not require masks, proof of vaccination, or negative COVID tests to attend, but is encouraging people to be safe.

“People are welcome to wear a mask and social distance and we will have many sanitation sites around the festival,” said Howard. “We want people to be safe but we also have to keep moving forward.”

According to Howard, the vaccination tent will be set up and operated by officials from the Morgan County Health Department. Morgan County Health Department Official Amber Vandiver will be in charge of the vaccination tent during the Cotton Gin Festival.

“Shout out to the Morgan County Health Department for coming out to do this on a Saturday,” said Howard. “This event usually draws thousands of people from multiple counties, so if we can offer them the COVID vaccine and do our part in the pandemic, then that is a good thing for us to do.”

The City of Bostwick is hoping to help increase Morgan County’s lagging vaccination rates, as well as among visitors from out-of-town. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, just over 44 percent of Georgia’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

While this year’s Cotton Gin Festival aims to be COVID-conscious, the city promises attendees that same beloved traditions and events will continue at this year’s festival.

According to Howard, the City of Bostwick will announce this year’s Cotton King, or Queen, sometime this week. The Cotton Gin Festival, which is usually held in early November, will take place on Saturday, Oct. 23 instead.

The event usually draws thousands of people to Downtown Bostwick as hundreds of tractors and floats parade through the heart of town and dozens of vendors set up tents to sell art, crafts, jewelry, decor, food, clothing and other goods. The beloved festival celebrates Bostwick’s long legacy of cotton farming and rural way of life.

As previously reported in the Morgan County Citizen, the Cotton Gin Festival committee decided to move up the date of the festival since it is an off week for the University of Georgia football team, which will allow the festival to use a parking agency out of Athens for the more than 1,000 cars and trucks that travel to Bostwick the day of the festival. The last festival, in 2019, utilized the parking agency and filled the Ruark Sod Farm with vehicles for the festival. “We want to do that again,” said Howard.

She also said the off day for the football game will make the closure of Georgia Highway 83 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. more palatable for drivers. During a game day, she says, “if we close Highway 83 traffic is horrible.”

Since Bostwick resident June Whittaker started the festival 31 years ago, the Bostwick Cotton Gin Festival has exploded regionally in popularity and in visitors. Howard estimates that now between 5,000 and 7,000 people attend annually. She said the committee and the town welcomed the opportunity to hold the festival again after last year’s closure. “I felt a loss not doing it last year. There was a sadness in the community. It’s like a family reunion.”

Howard expects more than 100 vendors to participate this year and the Bostwick Cotton Gin will be operational during the festival. The annual Tractor Parade begins at 11 a.m.

The festival will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Howard estimates that 25 to 30 volunteers keep things running. Funds from the festival have gone to the complete renovation of the Susie B. Agnes Hotel in downtown Bostwick and have been used for the town’s park renovations and to place Christmas lights on downtown businesses.

“We put every bit of it back into the community,” says Howard.

Parking at the festival is $5 and wagon rides from the parking area to the festival will be available. Howard says this year the town looks forward to its biggest “family reunion.”

For more information on registering for the parade, contact Angie Howard at: angie.howard@bellsouth.net.

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