The tradition of the annual Highland County Maple Festival returns March 14-15 and 21-22.
Since 1958, visitors have been drawn to Highland County to tour real maple sugar camps for a cultural and culinary adventure. All-you-can-eat pancake and buckwheat cake meals, over 100 arts and crafts vendors, and live entertainment make this county-wide event a fun outing for the entire family.
This year, the Maple Festival features nine unique camps open for the public to tour at no charge. Visitors have the chance to view traditional and modern techniques for creating maple syrup from tree to bottle. In addition to pure maple syrup, some local camps offer a variety of flavored maple syrups infused with native plants or aged in spirit barrels, as well as hickory syrup.
New for 2020, Tonoloway Farm is a walk-in, first-generation syrup operation on the wooded slopes of Bullpasture Mountain, just east of McDowell. In addition to wood-fired maple syrup, Tonoloway Farm plans to offer walnut syrup for yet another diverse taste of the Appalachian forests.
Local civic clubs and organizations feature fresh maple doughnuts, pancake and buckwheat meals with sausage and gravy, trout sandwiches, pork rinds and just about anything maple-flavored. Additional food vendors on Water Street in Monterey offer treats like maple-bacon cupcakes, maple fudge, maple-bacon dates and brewery-crafted nachos with maple.
Over 100 juried arts and crafts vendors will be available in Monterey and McDowell, a variety of handcrafted items, from artwork to jewelry. Admission to access vendors at the Highland High School and Elementary School gyms remains at $3, which comes with a collectible 2020 maple leaf keychain that also provides entry to both Saturdays’ 3 p.m. entertainment.
The Highland Center in Monterey will have an expanded presence at the festival this year, hosting the Highland County Visitor Center for festival information, children’s activities, vendors, and a “Maple Taproom,” featuring a place to sit down and enjoy an adult beverage, including the 2020 Daylight Cravings: Maple Bacon Breakfast Stout from Brothers Craft Brewing.
Regarding live entertainment, five performances will also be held at The Highland Center. The Little Switzerland Cloggers kick off the shows with a free performance at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 14. Then, award-winning banjoist and dancer Tyler Hughes presents old time music at 3 p.m. To round out the night, Bill Jenkins and the Virginia Mountain Boys perform folk music of the Appalachian Mountains at 7 p.m.
On Saturday, March 21, John Bullard plays classical banjo at 3 p.m., followed by the all-female trio, After Jack, with their popular “hot folk” performance. Admission to the Saturday 3 p.m. shows is $3, or a maple leaf keychain, and the Saturday 7 p.m. shows is $10. These four performances are brought to the public 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. In addition, Hull’s Hideaway Restaurant and Tavern in Monterey will host the acoustic blues trio, Delta Junction, in a 21+ show on Saturday, March 21 at 9 p.m. for $10.
Many additional activities can be found on stops while driving around the countryside that features expansive scenic views. These activities include feeding of live fish at the Virginia Trout Co. north of Monterey, reliving history with a Highland Museum exhibit at The Mansion House in McDowell, viewing additional vendors at The Church at the Old Oak in Meadowdale, experiencing a local restaurant or store, or enjoying hard craft cider at Big Fish Cider Co. in downtown Monterey.
In 1999, the Library of Congress designated The Highland County Maple Festival a “Local Legacy,” and in 2014, the governor of Virginia signed a bill into law designating the festival as the “official maple festival of Virginia.” Tens of thousands of visitors arrive in the rural mountain community annually to enjoy the event. The Highland County Maple Festival is coordinated by the Highland County Chamber of Commerce and made possible with the help of countless volunteers and organizations.
Traditional hours of the festival include Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., though visitors can get a jumpstart to the day with an all-you-can-eat pancake meal as early as 7 a.m. More details on all the festival happenings can be found at www.highlandcounty.org/events/maple-festival or www.facebook.com/HighlandCounty.