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Jim Thorpe concerned about fall crowds

The Fall Foliage Festival may be canceled in Jim Thorpe this October, but borough officials remain concerned that it won’t stop visitors from coming to town in large numbers.

In place of the festival, the Jim Thorpe Tourism Agency is promoting a “Fall in Love With Jim Thorpe” campaign for people to “experience the majestic colors of the Pocono Mountains and the charm of Jim Thorpe, enjoy the many outdoor activities and all the diverse specials and sales at our restaurants, shops and boutiques.”

Mayor Michael Sofranko said he and several other representatives from the borough plan to meet with business owners this week and discuss their preparedness for large crowds, festival or not.

“I don’t want to stop business in the downtown, but we did a lot to keep our residents and our emergency responders safe during the COVID-19 pandemic; if we get this onslaught of people coming to town, all that we did could be in vain,” Sofranko said. “If we have 5,000 people coming to town and these restaurants only have capacity for 1,000, we’ve got a real problem.”

The Jim Thorpe Tourism Agency announced the cancellation of the Fall Foliage Festival in June. In promoting the new campaign, the JTTA has encouraged everyone to follow merchants’ guidelines as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Health’s recommendations for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re a tourist-based town and we want people to come. We just want people to come safely for our own community and safely for themselves as well,” JTTA President James Dougher said in June.

During a council workshop Thursday night, Councilman Mike Yeastedt said the borough can’t close the gate and prevent people from coming into town, but it can get the word out that huge crowds of visitors are not encouraged.

“I think we have to start getting that word out now,” Yeastedt said. “Town was packed this past Wednesday. If that’s any indication, fall is going to be crazy. We can’t wait until September.”

Councilman Bob Schaninger said he also supports merchants in town, but no formal events.

“Whatever this is being called,” Schaninger said in regards to the Fall in Love With Jim Thorpe campaign, “I think we should take a stand as borough council.”

Many restaurants are expected to have seasonal menus and specials available for the Fall in Love With Jim Thorpe campaign.

“Fall in love with all of the things going on in Jim Thorpe. Certainly the hiking, biking and whitewater rafting which will still be going on, but all the merchants and the restaurants and the beauty and charm the town has to offer naturally,” Dougher said when announcing the campaign in June.

Like his colleagues, Council President Greg Strubinger said he wants to see a prosperous downtown, but safety of the residents comes first.

“That takes priority,” Strubinger said. “It just takes these massive crowds here when we need to get emergency personnel in somewhere quickly and we can’t do that. Then that becomes a problem.”

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