Reflections From “The Granddaddy of the Maple Festival” – Part 2

“Back then, we had snows two or three feet deep, and we’d have to reschedule ‘em or cancel it out because people just couldn’t come in here.  Of course, everybody was real upset, but who can control the weather?”

This is part 2 of Allegheny Mountain Radio’s interview with 90-year old Austin Shepherd about his sixty years of experience with the Highland County Maple Festival.  Originally, the festival was held for one weekend but was changed to the second and third weekends in March, right in the middle of the syrup production process.  Mr. Shepherd recalls some other changes and memories.

He says, “Of course, one of the changes is in the producing of the syrup itself.  Henry Hevener and I went up in to Ohio, and we picked up where you get the maple syrup by tubing, which when you have that many buckets to take care, it’s hard to get it done, so that was one of the biggest changes is the tubing, and we also picked up the Maple Queen’s Contest, so we decided we’d try it, and it’s been running ever since, too.”

In 1964, Mr. Shepherd crowned the first Maple Queen.  He recalls, “Well, that was very exciting, and I just happened to remember, the first queen was Phyllis Hise, and I’ve met all the queens all the way through, but I don’t, don’t remember too many of ‘em’s names anymore!  When you get ninety, you’re lucky to remember your own name!” he says with a laugh.

Mr. Shepherd also explains some of his outreach efforts.  He continues, “To advertise the festival, I would write an article and send it to the newspapers and also try to get on the radio station, not just here, but anywhere they would let me talk, and most all of ’em would.  I used to invite the governors in, and I had several governors to come in.  They’d always come the first day.  You’d invite people to come meet the governors, even if they weren’t interested in the Maple Festival, but we did do that.  Some of the congressman, I had several congressman to come in, and I enjoyed meeting those people, too.”

Mr. Shepherd responds to the question of, “When the festival first started, did you ever think it would get as big as it is now?”  He says, “Not really, when you look at how far people have to travel to get here and so forth, but it really worked out to be a wonderful thing for the county.  If we didn’t have the Maple Festival, we’d have even fewer people in the county, and, uh, you have to have so many people to operate a county, and, incidentally, I served eight years on the Board of Supervisors, and I tried to do everything that I could to see that more money was turned in to the county.  You know, money is the key to about everything, then and now, too, so this really helps, gets the people just a little money circulated around in the county that wouldn’t be made.”

In the upcoming final segment, Austin Shepherd tells us a bit more about his favorite parts of the festival, as well as what he thinks the future holds.

Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

Current Weather