Highland County Maple Festival Preview – Part 1


We invited Highland County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chris Swecker into the studio to give us a rundown of the highlights of this year’s Maple Festival.   This is part one of a two-part preview.


Well, we’re right in the middle of maple syrup production here in Highland county and that means that our biggest event of the county is coming up. The first part of the festival is always the kickoff and that’s the 56th annual Maple Queen Pageant. We have six participants this year, and that will be held on Saturday, February 29 at 7:00 at the Highland County Public Schools. After that, you’ll be sure to want to go to the Maple Queen Ball that’s held at the Bluegrass Ruritan building that will feature the band Your Best Shot. There’ll be some refreshments there as well. There will be an admission fee, but that’s a great event to kind of go out, let loose after the ball, see the Maple Queen court, congratulate them; a really classy event and family-friendly for everyone. So go on out and check that out and you can be there until 1:00 am.


This will be the 62nd annual Highland County Maple Festival and we are really excited this year to be hopefully one of our biggest yet. There are nine sugar camps this year, but this year we have a new farm as well. It’s Tonoloway Farm that’s going to be east of McDowell. And it’s a first generation syrup operation. It’s on the slopes of Bullpasture Mountain. Not only will you be able to see this sugar operation, but you’ll be able to hike around on the farm, enjoy some of those panoramic mountain views over McDowell. And in addition to the wood-fired maple syrup technology, the farm will offer walnut and hickory syrups. So that walnut syrup, that’s something that’s new as another taste of our Appalachian forests, and it’s pretty exciting to try that out. I don’t know how quickly that’ll go, but I’m guessing it might go pretty fast. I’m definitely excited to try that. And it’s nice to have a younger couple that is getting into the maple industry here in Highland County.


I’ve also heard that, you know, in addition to the pure maple syrup that so many of our farms have that there might be some new flavors to try out this year. As far as infusions. I know Laurel Fork Sapsuckers will have wild blueberry infused maple syrup, which will be pretty exciting to try. And I’ve heard Back Creek Farms, that sets up on the courthouse, might have a new flavor, but they’ve been pretty secretive on what that will be.


Of course, all our farms, there’s something unique to see, from the traditional styles to the new styles. Some of these have been doing it for many, many years. So each one has something unique to go and check out. So if you come every year and you visit one I’d suggest maybe trying out, go to a different one and kind of see what’s what out there.  You might have a brand new experience that will be pretty enjoyable for you.


So as far as live entertainment, we’re excited to say there are six performances during the festival this year. The first one is the kickoff at 1:00. It’s the Little Switzerland Cloggers out at The Highland Center. That will be a free performance. At 3:00, award-winning banjoist and dancer Tyler Hughes presents old-time music.  To round out the night, Bill Jenkins and the Virginia Mountain Boys perform folk music of the Appalachian Mountains at 7:00 and that is on Saturday, March 14. Again the first Saturday of the festival.  On Saturday, March 22, the second Saturday, John Bullard plays classical banjo at 3:00 p.m. at The Highland Center followed by the all-female trio After Jack with their popular hot folk performance. That’s at 7:00.


The Saturday 3:00 and 7:00 performances, they’re brought to you by the Highland County Arts Council and are made possible in part by funding from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge. And then that second Saturday, March 21, there will also be a performance at Hull’s Hideaway Restaurant and Tavern by the acoustic blues trio Delta Junction.  That’s a 21-plus show, and that will be in Monterey at 9:00.


One of the greatest things about the festival I think, is that pretty much everything is free. The only admission costs are $3 to get into the high school and elementary school gymnasiums to see those craft vendors and that also comes with a collectible key chain for 2020. And that key chain will also get you into the 3:00 pm performances at The Highland Center on those Saturdays and then the 7:00 Saturday performances are $10 each. So we definitely have more variety of music for people to check out and we’re pretty excited about it.


Tune in next week for the second part of Chris Swecker’s 62nd Annual Maple Festival preview when he tells us about this year’s food offerings, happenings at the Highland Center, and tips on getting around.  This is Mickey Frank Thomas for Allegheny Mountain Radio.


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Mickey Frank Thomas

Mickey Frank began his radio career in October 2017 when he was offered the impossible-to-fill 9:00 p.m. to midnight slot on Saturdays, where his coordinated mix of pop, soft rock and R&B from the 60s through the 80s met with little acclaim. Deciding that he needed a more awake audience, he added the 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. afternoon drive slot to his workload when it became available in December 2018. Originally from Morton, Illinois, good, old Mickey Frank has lived in more places than he can count on his fingers and toes, but now resides in Highland County.  Email Mickey Frank at  mickeyfrank@amrmail.org.

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