ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins Co. Fair officials announced on August 12 via a post to the event’s Facebook page that this year’s event has been canceled.
The 2019 fair, which would have been the third fair in a row, was going to be held at the Thomas Amis Historic Park.
The post read, “We have been working for months to obtain governmental approval to temporarily close a portion of West Bear Hollow Road for safety reasons. This was a stipulation put on the fair by the management of Amis Mill historic site for liability reasons. We had been working with the appropriate authorities, and, until today, it looked like we would be able to close the road, but this morning I found out that would not be happening, so we have no recourse but to cancel the fair this year.”
The 2019 fair was to be held at a new locationThe past two Hawkins Co. Fairs were held at Hope Community Church’s Camp Hope near Church Hill. Both drew large crowds and offered numerous activities and vendors. However, Hope Community Church decided not to host this year’s event.
“The fair wasn’t a bad thing — it was a good thing,” said founding pastor of Hope Church, Rip Noble. “Our goal is to share the gospel and to make Christ known, and we just felt like that investment was better put into our camp. It costs a lot of money each year to offer a free camp. We later saw that someone else had decided to host the fair, but we didn’t know anything about that when we made our decision — our decision wasn’t related to that at all.”
The decision to cancel this year’s event came after several changes to the fair fell through.
In an effort to promote the rich history of the area and to ensure guests’ safety, Thomas Amis Historic Park owner, Jake Jacobs, put a few stipulations in place in order to host the fair.
He asked that this year’s event be a “living history fair with no carnival.” He also asked that traffic safety be provided, as the Thomas Amis Historic Park is on either side of a portion of West Bear Hollow Road, which is regularly traveled.
“I asked that they (fair officials) would provide auto traffic safety on West Bear Hollow Road either by closing the road or by the county providing safety measures there because we just can’t take on that kind of liability,” Jacobs told the Review. “Our property is on both sides of the road, and there would be kids running back and forth across that road.”
Confusion surrounding the closure of West Bear Hollow RoadFair officials began working with County Commissioners, the Sheriff’s Office, and Road Superintendent. County Commissioner Mark DeWitte even began writing a resolution allowing for the closure of West Bear Hollow Road that would be brought before the County Commission.
Hawkins Co. Road Superintendent Lowell Bean was asked if he could close West Bear Hollow Road.
“I personally do not have the authority to close it,” Bean told the Review. “I called and checked on it to make sure, and they (the Tennessee County Highway Officials Association) explained that I personally didn’t have the authority to close that road for the fair. I have no dogs in this race. I personally think the fair is a great thing. I was up there last year and really enjoyed it. To cancel it is a sad situation.”
Executive Director of the Tennessee County Highway Officials Association Rodney Carmical later spoke with the Review to explain why the road can’t be closed.
“If you have a safety hazard on the road, the highway superintendent can close it temporarily to repair the damage,” Carmical said. “This is a call to be made by the highway superintendent, but there has to be a reason for it — a legitimate, legal reason other than the fact that it inconveniences people because the fair is in town. A county road is a public road — everybody gets to use that road. Somebody might drive up and say, ‘well, I’ve got as much right on this road as anybody else,’ and that’s true. As I told Lowell (Bean) myself, he had no legal reason or safety reason to close that road.”
He went on to explain that, in order to close a road like this, signage must be placed at the very beginning and ends of the road in order to give people enough notice to find an alternate route. During the night, flashing lights would have to be installed in order for motorists to see the barricades.
Carmical also explained that there are costs and liabilities that the county incurs when closing a road.
“It would cost the county manpower and time to go out there and put signage up, block the road on both ends, and then, if someone says ‘I’m going through that road, and I’m going to run through the signs,’ then we have a liability issue,” he said. “It’s really not worth the all the costs that there will be to put all the barriers up and all the lights to go along with it.”
If someone were to crash into the barricade, the county could be liable for any damages or injuries to the crash victim.
“When you do that (close a road), you have to take all kinds of precautions because, if someone were to get hurt hitting that barrier, then the county is liable,” he said. “It’s not worth the county’s liability for someone to run through a barricade.”
The county is technically still liable for damages if someone crashes into a barricade while a road is closed for repairs; however, those possible costs are far less than the liability the county would take on if someone were injured due to an unsafe road.
“Normally, repairs to a road would not last three days,” Carmical said. “We have a time allowed for something like that, and we’re going to repair that immediately and get the road back open.”
Carmical also explained that, if the highway department began closing roads when there is no legal reason to do so, the department would have to do so for anyone who asked.
“I understand this situation, but what happens if someone else wants to have a family reunion somewhere, and they decide they want to close the road,” Carmical asked. “You can’t just close roads because they are public access.”
In the case of West Bear Hollow Road, there are homes and other privately-owned properties in between the beginning of the road and the Thomas Amis Historic Site. Thus, if the road were closed, access to the road would have to be given to these property owners in order for them to get in and out of their property.
“Then, if you allow access to people who need to be in there — because those people have a right to go in there — then you’re going to let everyone else in,” Carmical said. “If you’re going to let three people in, for example, then you have to have a location for them to get in. So, if they can get in, everyone else can get in.”
It should also be noted that, according to Carmical, city roads fall under a different set of rules than county roads.
“They (city roads) are governed by municipal law,” he said. “They can do ordinances to close their roads that we can’t.”
Considering other optionsThe possibility of fair officials or the Thomas Amis Historic Site hiring off-duty sheriff’s deputies to provide traffic control even came up.
“We were planning to use off-duty officers regardless,” said Woody Boyd of the Hawkins Co. Fair. “If we closed the road, which was what Mr. Jacobs told me was a requirement for safety and his liability issues, we were still going to have three off-duty officers. Two in the road and one in the crowd.”
Once he found out that the road could not be closed, Boyd said he and other fair officials considered only having officers to direct traffic across West Bear Hollow road. However, he told the Review that they determined that wouldn’t be feasible.
“We just didn’t think that would work,” he said. “Others might disagree, but it was ultimately our decision. We talked about putting crosswalks up, and we had the sheriff out. The sheriff’s department was very helpful, but we just didn’t think that would work.”
Boyd told the Review that he and other fair officials hope to begin the fair again next year though no official plans have been made.