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Planning, preparations begin for 2016 Mountain Heritage Day festival at WCU

While Mountain Heritage Day is months away, Western Carolina University is already making preparations for this year’s festival as organizers begin groundwork for the showcase of Southern Appalachian music, crafts and culture.

Mountain Heritage Day draws thousands to Cullowhee each year on the last Saturday in September.

Mountain Heritage Day draws thousands to Cullowhee each year on the last Saturday in September.

The 42nd annual event will be held on Saturday, Sept. 24, and is anticipated to be the biggest yet, with some behind-the-scenes changes being made to accommodate growth. Organizers expect more than 130 booths of regional arts and crafts, and vendors offering ethnic, heritage and festival food, as well as an expanded lineup of music and dance performances, living-history demonstrations, competitions and awards programs. Attendance is expected reach or exceed the 20,000 mark.

Festival management will shift this year to Stacy MacGregor, WCU director of special events, who is responsible for providing leadership and professional expertise in the planning and implementation of high-level university events. She will provide oversight for all aspects of Mountain Heritage Day, coordinate with the event planning committee and be the festival’s primary point of contact.

For the past seven years, Trina Royar, formerly with the Mountain Heritage Center, had served as festival coordinator. She compiled all exhibitor and vendor applications, handled negotiations and placement for booths offering handmade arts and crafts in juried competition on the festival grounds, and wrote much of the promotional material and provided logistics, among other duties.

“Mountain Heritage Day owes so much to Trina’s leadership and tireless dedication,” said Carol Burton, former event chairperson and WCU associate provost for undergraduate studies. “It is important for the campus and the community to recognize that she did this as a part-time employee, which makes it even more of an accomplishment. Thanks to her, we are poised for the future. Her efforts, and those of so many others, aligns us with continuing to be the premier traditional mountain cultural event of the region.”

The daylong event is known for continuous mountain music, gospel and bluegrass, shape-note singing, clogging and storytelling on numerous stages. Living-history demonstrations include muzzle-loading rifles, blacksmithing, salt-making, stone carving, banjo-making, corn shuck crafts and broom-making. Children participate in sack races, free wagon rides and hayrides, as well as trying their hand at arts and crafts. Cherokee cultural activities feature stickball games, pottery and other Native American handcrafts, and the festival now boasts directional signage in the Cherokee language and additional interpretive displays.

Dance and mountain music have always been key attractions at Mountain Heritage Day.

Dance and mountain music have always been key attractions at Mountain Heritage Day.

Competitions and juried events include the popular chainsaw and woodcutting contests, a children’s old-time attire pageant, county fair-style judging of canned goods and homemade foods, and a people’s choice antique car and truck show.

The success of the festival is a reflection of the efforts by the organizing committee and high-quality work of volunteers, said Mark Haskett, festival chair and WCU director of photography and videography. About 200 volunteers from the community and campus ― faculty, staff and students ― assist with parking and traffic, transportation, staffing information booths and performance stages, running contests and other tasks, he said.

“Beginning in 1974, we have seen what works, what people enjoy and why so many folks return, year after year, making it a family tradition to attend,” Haskett said. “Mountain Heritage Day is the best, and we think the best will just keep getting better.”

Traditional mountain artisans, craftsmakers and vendors who are interested in being a part of Mountain Heritage Day 2016 are encouraged to visit the website and complete an application form. Potential sponsors and volunteers should call 828-227-3039.

By Geoff Cantrell

Categories | The Reporter

Photos | WCU News Services

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