“Saturday, Sept. 28, marked 45 years that Western Carolina University has set aside a day to celebrate all the things that come together to make the mountains our home, the beginnings that led to this moment, and the new traditions that point to our future,” said Geoff Cantrell of University Communications and Marketing, who serves as Mountain Heritage Day’s marketing and publicity director.
Mountain Heritage Day began in 1974 as a barbecue and celebration in recognition of Western Carolina University Chancellor H.F. Robinson’s inauguration. The following year it gained status as an annual event with its designation of Mountain Heritage Day. The festival of southern Appalachian and Cherokee traditions and culture is renowned today as a showcase of mountain music, family activities and the region’s finest arts and crafts. The firing of muzzle-loading rifles, the fire and forge of blacksmithing, furniture-making, banjo-making and corn shuck crafts such as dolls, rugs and brooms are just a few of the demonstrations the festival includes.
Today, Mountain Heritage Day is an event that a committee plans, beginning the day after each year’s event. It’s planned by community volunteers along with Western Carolina faculty, staff and students to bring more than 150 arts and crafts vendors with creations ranging from furniture and jewelry to leather goods and metalwork. Other vendors offered a variety of festival food, with favorites ranging from fry bread, kettle corn and homemade ice cream to funnel cakes and barbecue. Activities that attendees took part in include shape-note singing, tractor rides, and the cross-cut sawing competition.
“Mountain Heritage Day was an exciting event that I felt was a great way to connect with the community. From running the 5k to talking with artists at the festival, I was able to interact with so many awesome people! I loved seeing the passion those participating had for Cherokee culture and craftsmanship. I introduced myself to two ladies – one a potter and the other a weaver – who dedicate their time to creating handmade pieces. Their excitement and my interest in their work make events like Mountain Heritage so memorable for me,” said attendee Carleigh Ballard.
The 11th Annual Mountain Heritage Day 5K was one of the festival’s key events. The race began at Stillwell Sciences Building toward Central Drive then along Old Cullowhee Road. Runners continued their course through Western Carolina’s campus passing the Catafount and Alumni Tower on their way to the finish line.
“The 5K was an incredible race with beautiful scenery. Like every 5K I run it challenges you, brings out your inner fire, and makes you never forget the extraordinary things one is capable of. The Mountain Heritage Day festival was an amazing experience that enhanced my views on the diverse cultures Western Carolina has to offer,” said third-place winner D Germain.
As well as the 5K, an automobile show took place with a viewers’ choice contest where attendees cast votes and at the end, and plaques were presented to their winners. Another award that took place was the Mountain Heritage Day Award. This year the award was presented to Bill Crawford of Sylva and the Cashiers Historical Society in honor of his achievements in historic preservation and outstanding cultural contributions in the region.
Musical guests included Carolina Blue, a Brevard-based bluegrass band performing in the tradition of Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys; Becky Buller, a two-time Grammy Award-winning songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and singer; and Bobby McMillon, a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award recipient known for emotionally moving songs and storytelling. Also scheduled to appear are Phil and Gaye Johnson, Whitewater Bluegrass Company, the Dietz Family and the Queen Family, the Burnett Sisters, Summer and Brae, who are also known as Mountain Faith.
Mountain Heritage Day shows Western Carolina’s commitment to the region and reflects the university’s supportive relationship, introduces students to ways of another time and brings in a broad audience to see the progress and traditions of campus.
“It’s an heirloom festival, in my opinion, hopefully, to be passed down for another 45 years or more. Everything throughout the day is a sensory experience and family fun. At its heart, Mountain Heritage Day is about community, one that WCU is proud to be an integral part of,” said Cantrell.
To learn more about Mountain Heritage Day, apply for a vendor application, or nominate someone for a Mountain Heritage Award, click here.