Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Day requires behind-the-scenes work before, during and after to run smoothly. The men and women who perform those duties are the unsung heroes for the annual event, named this year as a top 20 festival in the Southeast, said Stacy MacGregor, WCU special events director and Mountain Heritage Day co-chair.
The 43rd annual festival will be held Saturday, Sept. 30, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. at the intramural field near the Cordelia Camp Building. With upwards of 15,000-20,000 people attending, their safety, comfort and enjoyment is essential for a successful day. Simple logistics can become serious concerns. This is where parking and transport workers, the grounds crew, electricians, student service volunteers and others come in.
“The entire WCU Police Department is present for each Mountain Heritage Day to help make it an enjoyable and safe event,” said Ernie Hudson, WCU chief of police. “We are often the first ones here at 5 a.m. and the last to leave after the event closes.”
Campus police and WCU’s Office of Parking and Transportation work together throughout the event, using an incident command system. Last year, there were 42 parking, communications staff and police officers on duty.
“Behind the scenes, an incident commander, as well as other representatives from key departments involved in Mountain Heritage Day, are in a ‘command post’ where every aspect that involves vehicular traffic, medical emergencies and law enforcement responses are monitored and coordinated,” Lt. Jerry Adams said. “This is done by the use of video cameras and direct radio communication between the command post and parking staff, EMTs and police officers who are placed in strategic areas in and around the event.”
Staff look forward to the event every year, said Frederick J. Bauknecht, parking and transportation director. “It is a nice ‘hometown’ gathering that allows us to show our warm WCU hospitality and give folks a peek of our beautiful campus,” he said. “We enjoy meeting new people and sharing our mountain heritage with our guests. Parking and Transportation is responsible for traffic control and transportation around campus during the event. Customer service is our No. 1 priority and we ensure each guest will have a safe, enjoyable time while they visit our campus.”
When guests arrive, they are greeted with fall decorations such as corn shucks, pumpkins and split-rail fences at the entrances. As they make themselves at home on the grounds, guests have the opportunity to sit on one of 400 straw bales while watching bluegrass, clogging and other performances. There are convenience stations for drinking water and porta-potties. As the day progresses, the crowd will generate some two tons of trash, which will be tossed into 100 garbage and recycling bins.
Taking care of those details and much more are the WCU grounds and facility maintenance crews. “Our staff has two major events a year that provides an opportunity for us to provide a positive campus impression,” said Roger Turk, university grounds superintendent. “Those being graduation, our largest academic event, and Mountain Heritage Day, our largest public event of the year. Both of these events have huge numbers of visitors on campus that may never come again and we want their one and only visit to make the best impression possible.”
Turk described the process as a division of labor between the grounds crew and the facilities management trade staff, with lengthy checklists for both. Among the tasks they attend to:
- Set up fall decorations on the field, at the stages and various event entrances
- Set up many of the demonstration sites
- Empty trash and recycling containers, and provide daylong litter control
- Construct the Balsam and Blue Ridge main performance stages
- Erect large and small tents for demonstrators, performers and eating areas
- Provide carpenters, plumbers and electricians to respond to issues
- Replenish water and ice in drinking water barrels
- Take down tents, disconnect power and water at the end of the day
“In general, all the facilities management staff involved in Mountain Heritage Day enjoy the festival,” Turk said. “They understand that this is an opportunity for the university to share something with the region that we support and that supports us. They also see family and friends that they may only see on the day of the festival. Like many of the festivalgoer’s the staff have certain food or craft vendors they make sure they visit and music groups they want to be sure to hear each year.”
As a major festival on a university campus, it could be expected that students play a major role. That makes the Mountain Heritage Day a perfect venue for the WCU Center for Service Learning, with a mission to strengthen relationships between the campus and the community.
“An operation as large and impactful as Mountain Heritage Day takes an army of more than 120 well-trained and prepared volunteers to run like the well-oiled machine that it is,” said Lane Perry, director of the Center for Service Learning. “This army of service-learning volunteers help with the 5K through Charlie Parish (assistant professor of sport management and a run organizer), with set-up and tear-down, drink and merchandise sales, as greeters and guides, stage hands and green room supervisors, and have their fingers on the pulse of pretty much every beat of the Mountain Heritage Day heart.
“Without this cast of behind-the-scenes student volunteers, the festival would lose that friendly, welcoming, and hospitable experience that our patrons have become so accustomed to. Our volunteers pride themselves on ensuring that Mountain Heritage Day is a microcosm of some of the best cultural elements our region has to offer ― hospitality and a front-porch feel are front and center.”
Mountain Heritage Day is part of the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina, with www.BlueRidgeMusicNC.com providing an easy and convenient way to find festivals, concerts, jam sessions and plenty of singing and dancing to the traditional music of Western North Carolina. To learn more about WCU’s festival, visit www.mountainheritageday.com or call 828-227-3039.