By Lacy Hilliard
Tomahawk Writer, Photographer
Whether you choose to brave the switchback turns and sheer precipices of The Snake (US 421) or opt for the milder but stunningly scenic Route 133 past Backbone Rock, the journey to Shady Valley is a breathtaking prelude to the destination. Though each season offers a unique view of remote beauty, the delicate leaves dancing and swirling to their final slumber and the warm autumn glow creates a surreal scene worthy of exploration. Inviting travelers from near and far, The Shady Valley Cranberry Festival has been pleasing fall foliage enthusiasts for many years.
Shady Valley possesses not only stunning beauty but it is also home to a rare and diverse ecosystem. Parts of Shady Valley are considered a high-elevation (2,800 feet) wetland and its one of only two places in Tennessee where cranberries grow naturally. After the Pleistocene ice age, remnants of once thriving cold-weather ecosystems found themselves all but lost. It is estimated that at one time, Shady Valley housed over 10,000 acres of wetland suitable for cranberry growth. Today, only a token of the past remains but Shady Valley is still renowned for its ability to sustain these endangered boreal cranberry bogs.
The Cranberry Festival kicked off on Friday, October 12 with the traditional bean supper. The supper included home-style beans, cornbread, slaw, a drink and a cranberry cookie. Hot dogs were also available. Immediately following the bean supper, an auction was held. The supper and auction not only act as a fundraiser but also a meet and greet for Cranberry Festival attendees past and present.
On Saturday, October 13 the festival officially begins with a pancake and sausage breakfast to support the Shady Valley Fire Department and the traditional Cranberry Festival parade. A huge crowd lined the street to welcome this years lineup. The Pride of Johnson County Marching Band marched down the Shady Valley crossroads as they have done since the festivals start. New to the parade this year was a 50th anniversary Vietnam memorial float recognizing all veterans locally and nationally for their service. Other floats included the Grand Marshalls float and Cranberry Princess float. Several residents rode on horseback through the parade while others opted to showcase their shiny classic cars.
Several vendors were in attendance selling their handmade wares and traditional festival food. Shady Valley residents, Dan Wallace and Mary Alice Adamson, were present selling their intricate and unique birdhouses. Adamson said of the birdhouses, Hes (Wallace) the builder and Im the roofer and mason. The pair harvests their materials sustainably from fallen trees and driftwood right in Shady Valley. They leave the wood in its natural state and the moss roofs and whimsical staircases make the birdhouses an exceptional addition to any garden.
Steve Branch and his wife, Clare Branch, of Twigs and Branches could be seen at the 2012 Cranberry Festival selling everything from handmade instruments, wood crafts, and jewelry. Steve Branch said his inspiration for making handmade string instruments comes from his father who made them for 34 years. Clare uses her eye and provides the female perspective in the instrument making process and she is solely responsible for the handmade jewelry.
There was an abundance of festival food favorites at this years event including kettle corn, funnel cakes, roasted corn and, of course, plenty of cranberry themed goodies. Many local organizations held bake sales to sponsor their causes selling desserts like homemade cupcakes and cranberry muffins. Entrees were also available at the festival including barbeque, roasted chicken, hotdogs and hamburgers just to name a few.
As part of this years event, The Nature Conservancy hosted a booth offering information about their mission in Shady Valley as well as directions to their Shady Valley preserve. Free tours were offered to anyone interested in learning more about how the Shady Valley Cranberry Festival got its name. The Nature Conservancy has a clear mission in Shady Valley that can be summed up as conservation and preservation. Currently, the conservancy maintains four different preserves in Shady Valley that encompass more than 700 acres. The conservancy is working not only to preserve the wetlands but also the rare plant and animal species that utilize the wetlands as habitat. The bog turtle is an endangered species that calls the Shady Valley wetlands home. In fact, Shady Valley is the only location in Tennessee where this species still thrives in the wild. The Nature Conservancy works to protect the bog turtle by using small radio transmitters to track their movement. This study has shown that the bog turtle is expanding not only in number but also in range which is an important sign pointing to the health of the ecosystem. The Nature Conservancy is also working to bring back the red spruce, a variety of evergreen that is normally found in colder climates. Due to clear-cutting in Shady, the red spruce was all but lost. By 2005, only one mature red spruce remained but through the diligence of this organization, young red spruce trees can be seen throughout the preserve and are expected to thrive once again.
The Cranberry Festival is first and foremost a fundraiser. Shady Valley Elementary was established in 1936 and today the rock building stands as a testament to both time and local history. The façade is extremely similar to that of its original form however the technology within is anything but primitive. Smart boards, computers, and a new library are just a few of the modern additions that Shady Valley Elementary can boast. As a public school, Shady Valley does receive normal state funding however many of their upgrades are due largely to the fact that all the proceeds from The Cranberry Festival go to support the school.
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