By RONDA GREGORY
News & Journal Staff Writer
A perfect combination for celebration–diamonds and strawberries.The Strawberry Festival in Buckhannon will be experiencing its Diamond Jubilee in honoring the delicious, nutritious red ripe strawberry, one of summer’s first fruits.
The festival, its 75th year showcasing this delectable and gorgeous fruit, is one of the largest in the eastern United States and in West Virginia. More than 125,000 people are expected this year to enjoy nine days of dozens of events and activities and strawberry delights.
From Saturday, May 14 to Sunday, May 22, along Main Street at South Locust Street, folks can experience the major events and activities … huge block parties (titled “Party Gras”) on Friday and Saturday nights, the thrills and excitement of the carnival, quilt, photo and arts and crafts exhibits, antique cars shows, sporting events, the coronation, band competitions, a huge Grand Feature Parade and so much more.
“We’re getting ready for sure,” exclaimed Upshur County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Laura Meadows.
She said the festival is organized and conducted by an all-volunteer group of a board of directors who work hard every year putting together and putting on such a major feat.
“The Strawberry Festival is the biggest yearly event in Buckhannon,” she stated.
Opening ceremonies kick off at noon at the Upshur County Courthouse Plaza with the lighting of the festival flame. Following will be pre-coronation entertainment at Wesley Chapel on the campus of West Virginia Wesleyan College beginning at 1 p.m. Coronation activities of the 2016 King and Queen begin after that at the same location, including a video of past royalty for attendees to watch prior to the crownings.
“We’ll have a really nice presentation of the past kings of queens,” Meadows reports.
Levi Gay of Upshur County, who has been a former festival king, will be this year’s king. Dominique Collins, who hails from Normantown in Gilmer County, will be crowned festival queen.Teen Queen KinsingtonHammack-McClure already was crowned and is from St. Albans.
In the late afternoon, the Horse & Carriage Parade, the first of the festival’s five parades, will take place on Strawberry Lane. Businessmen Ike Morris and Mike Ross, sponsors of the parade, will also be featured riders in it.
A major attraction for the young and young-at-heart is again the carnival – presented by Gambill Amusements. It starts off from 6 p.m. on Monday, May 16 and will be open throughout most of the festival up until and on Sunday, May 22.
Throughout the festival, goers can shop at the town’s local boutiques for strawberry-themed gifts, enjoy an abundance of good and varied music and visit exhibits and shows of all kinds.
Meadows said that festival organizers, while not adding a specific new attraction, will be growing those of past festival years, such as the Arts and Crafts Show.
“It used to be held in one of the gyms at Wesleyan College, but the coordinator has, this year, spread it out to other facilities on the Wesleyan campus,” Meadows explained.”Since we’re celebrating our 75th year – our Diamond Jubilee – it comes down to the tradition of the Strawberry Festival, though we have really done a lot of expanding.”
Grand Feature Parade is set for 1 p.m. Saturday, May 21. It is a centerpiece of the festival and will showcase more than 100 units. According to marching.com, it will be televised live on CBS affiliate WDTV and the Fox Network and will also be streamed live online. More than 100,000 spectators are expected to line the 2.5-mile parade route.
The main attraction of the festival is of course THE strawberries.
“There are tons of strawberries and strawberry foods!” Meadows stated. “And that’s the best part – the best part I love about the festival. There will be places on every corner that have some sort of strawberry dessert.”
Vendors and churches will be serving up strawberry pancakes, strawberry smoothies, chocolate-covered strawberries, homemade strawberry ice cream, strawberry sugar cookies…and, of course…strawberry shortcake.
Vendors will also have specialty sandwiches and other substantial foods, organizers said.
Meadows said she hopes people will come out and enjoy all the wonderful events and, yes, all of the strawberry-eating opportunities that abound at the festival.
“This is the time of the year that both visitors come to our town and also those who have roots here who come back for a mini-reunion,” she stated.
For a detailed schedule and exact times of events and activities, visit the festival’s website at www.wvstrawberryfestival.com; or call the festival office at (304) 472-9036. Festival events are free, except for food and carnival amusements.