Highland County is Virginia’s least populous county but has been drawing tens of thousands of visitors to the community since 1959 to celebrate the “opening” of the trees and to observe the process of making pure maple syrup. Free “sugar camp” tours provide an educational experience for the entire family to learn how the syrup is made from tree to bottle, ranging from traditional to modern techniques. Local sugar camps have even expanded to include syrups infused with fruits and spices or even aged in spirit barrels. Other tree syrups can be found at the festival as well, including hickory, birch, and black walnut. Ten local sugar camps will be open on Saturdays and eight on Sundays this year.
Local civic clubs and organizations will be bringing back their food offerings, including fresh maple doughnuts, pancake and buckwheat cake meals with sausage and gravy, trout sandwiches, pork rinds, funnel cakes, and just about anything maple-flavored. More food vendors on North Water Street and Main Street in Monterey have been added in 2023 to offer expanded options for visitors.
Over 100 juried arts and crafts vendors will be available in Monterey and McDowell. A new Highland County Artisans’ Shop will be set up at The Highland Center in Monterey to showcase local crafts for sale as well. Admission to access vendors at the Highland County Public School Gyms and The Highland Center is $5 purchased onsite (children 12 and under are free), and payment comes with a collectible maple leaf keychain that also provides access to 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. entertainment at The Highland Center.
Each day of the festival this year will feature at least two live shows at The Highland Center. On Saturday, March 11, enjoy the popular bluegrass band Southern Rail Express at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., as well as the classical banjo of The John Bullard Trio at 5 p.m. On Sunday, March 12, listen to local favorites Mountain Air play their blend of acoustic Americana at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. During the following weekend on Saturday, March 18, square dancing begins at 10 a.m. with local callers Ellen and Eugene Ratcliffe; the 2 p.m. show features old time music band Mudhole Control. Finish up the festival with two clogging performances on Sunday, March 19, with the Hi-Horse Cloggers performing at 10 a.m. and the homegrown Little Switzerland Cloggers entertaining audiences at 2 p.m.
For more entertainment options, visitors of all ages can listen to bluegrass music at Southernmost Maple in Bolar starting at noon on Saturdays, or those 21 and up can groove to the acoustic blues of Delta Junction at Hull’s Hideaway Restaurant & Tavern in Monterey starting at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 11.
While traveling the scenic roads of the rural mountain community, visitors will discover many other additional activities, such as exploring exhibits on the community’s history at the Highland County Museum in McDowell, enjoying award-winning cider at Big Fish Cider Co. in Monterey, viewing additional vendors at The Church at the Old Oak in Meadowdale, browsing an old general store like the newly-revitalized Doe Hill Mercantile, eating at a local restaurant, or taking in the sights of a Valley Aerospace Team Model Rocket Launch south of Monterey on Saturday, March 11.
Traditional hours of the festival include Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., though visitors can get a jumpstart to the day with maple doughnuts being served at 6 a.m. and pancake meals starting as early as 7 a.m. Full details on all the festival happenings can be found at www.highlandcounty.org/maple-festival, with posts highlighting the festival available at www.facebook.com/HighlandCounty and www.instagram.com/highland_county_va.
~ Highland County Chamber of Commerce
Leave a Reply