With preparations complete thanks to faculty and staff involvement, organizers said it’s “ready, set, go” for Western Carolina University’s 43rd annual Mountain Heritage Day this Saturday, Sept. 30.
The celebration of southern Appalachian and Cherokee culture and traditions takes place at the intramural field near the Cordelia Camp Building from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
The staff and faculty commitment is something that allows the festival to remain a free event, said Mark Haskett, festival co-chair who has been involved with planning and photographing the event for more than 20 years. “The festival is dependent on their dedication and hard work, as well as community and student volunteers,” Haskett said. The only regular funding we receive comes through vendor booth rental fees and from a percentage of receipts from vendors’ sales at the festival’s arts, crafts and food midway.”
With upwards of 15,000-20,000 people attending the free festival, their safety, comfort and enjoyment is essential for a successful day. Parking and transport workers, grounds crew, electricians and campus police have and will play a major role in functions to make Mountain Heritage Day a reality.
“There are so many faculty and staff who are involved either directly or indirectly in the Mountain Heritage Day festivities and planning,” said Lane Perry, director of WCU’s Center for Service Learning and a volunteer coordinator. “We have dozens who help in volunteer leadership roles and in behind-the-scenes capacities. Additionally, hundreds come and support Mountain Heritage Day with their family and friends.
“Like all things we do at WCU, our staff, faculty, students and community members support each other and ultimately pride themselves on being ambassadors of our institution, community and region,” he said.
Named one of the top 20 festivals in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society, this year’s event will include additional musical acts, vendors and an expectation of more visitors, organizers said. That adds to the workload and readiness preparation.
“Our staff has two major events each year that provide an opportunity for us to present 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.”
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, said Lt. Jerry Adams of the WCU Police Department. “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.”
This year’s festival will have added significance as WCU embraces an interdisciplinary campus learning theme of “Cherokee: Community. Culture. Connections.” During the year, faculty and students will engage in topics and explore topics related to the learning theme. The goal is to foster campus conversations and connect students with collaborative opportunities for an integrated campuswide experience.
Mountain Heritage Day always has included Cherokee folkways, arts and crafts and the popular stickball games as a part of the daylong activities. Cherokee pottery, beadwork, coppersmithing, basketry and finger-weaving, as well as arrowheads, knife blades and spear points, again will be demonstrated. Legends and stories will come to life through stone and wood carvings that create figures representing Cherokee myths and tales.
The festival started as Founders’ Day on Oct. 26, 1974, at the inauguration ceremony of WCU Chancellor H.F. “Cotton” Robinson and became an annual event known as Mountain Heritage Day the following year. The early years were steered by Doug Davis, a member of WCU’s professional development staff from 1966 until his retirement in 1992 as assistant vice chancellor for student development. Having first served on the committee that planned the inauguration of Robinson, Davis was chosen to lead the new Mountain Heritage Day committee in 1976. He would go to serve on the committee for 18 years and actively supporting the event until he passed away in April at 92 years old.
HONORS AND RECOGNITION
This year’s festival is dedicated to the memory of Haywood County banjo player Steve Sutton, a WCU alumnus and professional musician who died unexpectedly in May. He was a fixture at Mountain Heritage Day, playing with Whitewater Bluegrass Company and participating in numerous Circle Tent performances and jam sessions over the years. He is remembered for helping young musicians and the sense of community he shared through the festival.
Another anticipated aspect of the festival is the Mountain Heritage Awards, presented annually to an individual and organization in honor of achievements in historic preservation and outstanding cultural contributions. The university instituted the awards in 1976, and the first recipient was the late John Parris, a Jackson County native, career newspaperman and author. Parris, who died in May 1999, helped establish WCU’s journalism studies program and championed the establishment of a center to preserve the traditions and cultures of the Western North Carolina mountains, which led to the founding of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center.
The individual winner of the 2017 Mountain Heritage Award is Helen Cable Vance; the recipient in the organizational category is the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County.
Mountain Heritage Day is part of the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina, with www.BlueRidgeMusicNC.com 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 premier festival, visit www.mountainheritageday.com or call 828-227-3039.