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Tweetsie Railroad 'ordered' to close by NCDHHS, additional seasonal events canceled

HIGH COUNTRY — On July 27, Tweetsie Railroad President Chris Robbins announced that the park has been “ordered to cease operations,” by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, following two weekends of limited operations at the park.

“Tweetsie Railroad has received notification from the NCDHHS that we are not permitted to run the train. Thus, we have no choice but to close the park and cancel upcoming special events, including K-9s in Flight, Railroad Heritage Weekend and Ghost Train. When parks like ours are cleared to open in North Carolina, we will re-evaluate the possibility of welcoming guests back to Tweetsie Railroad and hosting Tweetsie Christmas,” Robbins said.

While open, Tweetsie Railroad offered guests rides on its open-air train cars at 50-percent capacity and allowed guests to shop in its stores on Main Street. Other attractions at the park, including amusement rides and the zoo, remained closed.

“Our goal was to provide some encouragement to Tweetsie Railroad’s loyal customers while enforcing all appropriate safety measures, including wearing masks and practicing social distancing,” Robbins said. “We received very positive feedback from those who visited the park and heard the train whistle; we were gratified to hear from numerous visitors that it helped restore their hope for the future.”

Robbins also noted that “when parks like ours are allowed to reopen,” Tweetsie officials will re-evaluate the possibility of reopening and hosting Tweetsie Christmas.

All Golden Rail Season Pass Tickets for the 2020 season will be valid for Tweetsie Railroad’s 2021-2022 season.

On July 28, NCDHHS Communications Manager Kelly Connor said that amusement parks, “which Tweetsie Railroad operates as,” remain closed under Executive Order 141 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The retail and restaurant facilities within the park may open and follow DHHS’s retail and restaurant guidance,” Connor said.

Updates from Tweetsie Railroad are available by clicking to

Back 2 School Festival announces plans for drive-thru event

BOONE — Due to ongoing issues from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Back 2 School Festival has announced that this year’s event will be drive-thru only. The 2020 Back 2 School Festival will be held at Watauga High School over two days; Friday, Aug. 7, and Saturday, Aug. 8, with each school being assigned a specific time for their families to come pick up supplies.

The schedule is as follows:


• 9-10:30 a.m. Green Valley

• 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mabel/Parkway

• 1-2:30 p.m. Bethel/Blowing Rock

• 3-4:30 p.m. Cove Creek/Two Rivers


• 9-10:30 a.m. Hardin Park (Last names A-K)

• 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Hardin Park (Last names L-Z)

• 1-2:30 p.m. Valle Crucis/Home School

• 3-4:30 p.m. Watauga High

For the safety of children, families and volunteers, the school building will not be open, and families will pick up their supplies in a drive-thru fashion. Students are not required to attend the festival with their parent/guardian; representatives from each Watauga County school will be present at their school’s assigned time to check in and register attendees. In order to serve everyone in a timely and efficient manner, the festival will only able to serve families at their school’s designated time, and requests that attendees do not arrive before their scheduled time slot, as they will not be able to join the line until that time.

“Our mission remains the same,” said festival coordinator Kendra Sink, “to make sure each Watauga County student returns to school with the tools they need to start the school year off confident and prepared. This year is going to look a lot different from previous years, but we are still committed to providing kids with much needed school supplies.”

Sink added that the Back 2 School Festival still needs around $10,000 in donations in order to meet the “unprecedented need in our community.”

In addition to the drive-thru style pickup, face coverings will be required for all attendees, both inside their vehicles while picking up supplies, and inside the shoe tent where children will be selecting a new pair of shoes. Only 25 people will be allowed inside the tent at a time.

“The school-specific pickup times will allow us to maintain social distancing in compliance with the guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services and the executive order from Governor Cooper,” said the festival’s publicity coordinator, Matthew Lucas. “This year has given us some unique challenges, so we’re asking everyone to bear with us so we can get everyone through the line as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible. Every child who needs them will get the school supplies they need.”

The Back 2 School Festival was created in 2013 to provide school supplies free of charge for any Watauga County student whose family is struggling to meet the high cost of back to school shopping. Last year the festival provided supplies for over 1,200 students, and anticipates a higher number this year due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce announced on July 28 that it has partnered with Back 2 School Festival to be a collection site for school supply donations from now until Aug. 6.

The Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce is located on Park Avenue in downtown Blowing Rock and is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday. The building is closed daily from noon until 1 p.m.

You can learn more by visiting

Governor enacts curfew on alcohol sales in restaurants after 11 p.m. beginning July 31

RALEIGH — Restaurants in North Carolina will be restricted to selling alcoholic beverages to no later than 11 p.m. starting this Friday, July 31, Gov. Roy Cooper announced in a media briefing on COVID-19 on July 28. State law usually allows sales until 2 a.m.

Executive Order No. 153 outlining the decision and be found by clicking here.

The governor cited a tendency in later hours for restaurants to function more as bars, with less of a tendency to observe protocols such as social distancing, also noting that the move is necessary as case numbers have risen among young people.

“We’re hoping this new rule can drive down cases – particularly in young people,” Cooper said.

The governor’s office released a statement on Tuesday, July 28, regarding the curfew on alcohol sales.

“With actions to slow the spread of COVID-19 beginning to have impact, Governor Roy Cooper is doubling down on prevention measures with Executive Order 153 stopping the sale of alcoholic drinks in restaurants, breweries, wineries and distilleries at 11 p.m. North Carolina bars that are currently closed will remain closed,” the statement reads in part.

“Slowing the spread of this virus requires targeted strategies that help lower the risk of transmission,” Cooper said. “This will be particularly important as colleges and universities are scheduled to start, bringing people all over the country to our state. We have seen case numbers increase among younger people, and prevention is critical to slowing the spread of the virus.”

This newest executive order will not apply to grocery stores, convenience stores or other entities permitted to sell alcohol for off-premises consumption, and local governments that have implemented orders that end alcohol sales before 11 p.m. or that apply to other entities remain in effect.

As of July 28, the state has more than 116,000 lab-confirmed cases; 1,749 new cases since the previous day; 1,244 people in the hospital and 1,820 people who have died.

NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen provided an update during the briefing on COVID-19 trends in the state, noting that there has been some stabilization in some areas, including trajectory of COVID-like syndromic cases, trajectory of cases, trajectory of positive tests as a percentage of total tests and trajectory of hospitalizations. She added that state hospitals still possess adequate bed capacity, but that additional time is necessary to evaluate data.

“Slowing the spread takes a sustained effort from all of us,” Cohen stated. “Seeing glimmers of progress does not mean we can let up. It means it’s time to double down. While we’re stabilizing, these trends are still high. Adding nearly 2,000 cases per day is a lot of new cases, and this level of viral spread is stretching our response resources… The positive signs in our trends should only strengthen our resolve to keep at it with those three W’s of wearing a face covering over your nose and mouth, waiting six feet apart, and washing your hands often.”