Reflections on the 59th Annual Highland County Maple Festival


The 59th Annual Highland County Maple Festival has come and gone, and we spoke with Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Dorothy Stephenson, for her post-event impressions.

Ms. Stephenson says, “I feel it went really well. Obviously, the crowds weren’t as big as past years, but they were still really good crowds. They seemed very consistent throughout the day. Everybody seemed very happy, and everything went very smoothly.”

She spoke about this year’s new forum for entertainment events: “This year, we did something a little different. After the renovations at The Highland Center, the goal was to have entertainment back in The Highland Center. However, I was kind of reluctant to do that for any damage done to the floors. So we decided to try something a little new, something that we had been tossing around the past couple of years, and we decided to have entertainment at the Highland Elementary School in the gymnasium. In order to do this, we had to cut down on our vendors in the gymnasium. However, all the same benefits to the community were still there to the school, and we definitely didn’t want to cut out of anybody’s benefits, so we made sure that that all remained the same, but we wanted to try to increase traffic in the elementary school gymnasium. It just seemed like the absolute perfect year to try it. Everything just seemed to be falling in to place, so instead of forcing the issue another year, we figured we would go ahead and give it a shot now. It was actually very beneficial. Overall, I’ll be honest, we were nervous going in to it, not sure about how it would work out, but everything pulled off very well, and the vendors were very great to work with on this transition, and it was actually a total hit. So we’re very happy about that.”

An event of this magnitude will always have some bumps in the road. Ms. Stephenson continues, “Of course, the big thing that has been consistent for years is traffic and parking issues. This year, of course, we didn’t have the huge magnitude of crowds that we have had in the past. There were no hour to two hour long lines backing up the mountain, and, of course, we had feedback that we needed to try to control traffic better, try to account for better parking. Parking, I feel like in the three years that I’ve been involved with the festival has gotten somewhat better. We’ve been tweaking little things here and there each year to help, and the sheriff’s office has been great to work with, and they’ve really helped as much as they can as far as traffic control and parking. Traffic, unfortunately, you know, if you’ve got those record crowds – we’re a county built for 2,200 people and bringing in 20,000 people, more than likely, we’re probably not ever going to find a solution for that problem, but it’s definitely something that the chamber talks about, trying to come up with any answers that would be suitable and efficient for the event.”

But outweighing the bumps were the bright spots. She concludes with a bit of laughter: “The bright points were that there were no major downfalls!” Continuing, Ms. Stephenson says, “I think the biggest mistake that happened during the festival as far as I know of was I accidently left a couple vendors off of the maple map, but they laughed about it, you know, no big deal. Really, there were no major blowups. I felt like the community and everybody involved with the event worked so well together. Everybody just seemed to be very relaxed this year and very positive. As I was walking through the festival, everybody was very supportive, locally or visitors or vendors or anybody, especially local people. I really felt a better camaraderie, I guess, among everybody involved with the festival, everybody in the community, everybody just seemed to have a lot of patience with each other, very encouraging smiles, and, you know, ‘we’ve got this’ kind of teamwork effort, so that was just something that, I guess, has always been there, but it just seemed a lot more stronger this year.”

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.

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