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COVID-19 vs. tourism: Chimney Rock faces pandemic challenges

COVID-19 vs. tourism: Chimney Rock faces pandemic challenges
Popular tourist spots, like Chimney Rock, are reopening as many people looking for a place to get away and keep their vacations as COVID-19 safe as possible. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Popular tourist spots across Western North Carolina are reopening as many people looking for a place to get away and keep their vacations as COVID-19 safe as possible.

One of their destinations is the village of Chimney Rock, where a family was posing for photos with Sasquatch on Friday.

It's typical tourist stuff in a mecca of mountain tourism that has come alive again.

There's the lake, the state park and Main Street. All of it brought a group to Chimney Rock from Charlotte.

"Well, with this COVID, we've all been kind of stuck in the house, and it was my birthday, and I wanted to come up and spend some time with me and my family," one person said.

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Chimney Rock Mayor Peter O’Leary said people just wanted to get out and try to get back into a normal routine as much as possible.

Many stop by Bubba O'Leary's General Store, where there's penny candy for the kids and plenty of clothing for mom and dad. The proprietor is also the mayor.

"We have noticed that people are abiding for the most part with the protocols," O'Leary said.

By protocols, O'Leary means masks, social distancing and hand sanitizer.

Beyond his business, the mayor also has to think about COVID-19 and public health.

"It's always a concern," he said. "You don't want people bringing it in, but, at the same time, we are an outdoor attraction and people have room to move around. So, I feel like it's safe."

A group of masked young men, all talking at once, were waiting in line at a restaurant Friday.

"It's a pandemic. It's not something to be taken lightly. I don't know why anybody would think otherwise," one of them said.

Not everyone sees it that way.

"First they said wear a mask. Then they said don't wear a mask. We're from South Carolina. We don't think you should wear a mask," said a South Carolina resident who did not want to give a name.

Mebane resident Jenna Santucci doesnt' agree.

"If I get infected, I don't want to get other people infected," Santucci said.

Santucci believes in playing it safe -- for her elderly father and all of us.

"I'm protecting not only myself but him and other people around me. I don't want to put him at risk, other people at risk," Santucci said.

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