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Shady Valley hosts another successful Cranberry Festival

The 20th annual Cranberry Festival was held in Shady Valley this weekend amid a spectacular display of autumn colors. Although only a couple of decades old itself, the festival celebrates a history and heritage dating back centuries to when the valley was filled with wild cranberry bogs left over from the last ice age.
Most of the bogs have since been drained to allow for farming, but thanks to the Nature Conservancy and the preserved Jess Jenkins Cranberry bog, visitors can still get a glimpse of what the Valley was like before the arrival of the first settlers to the region. Cross Mountain, Iron Mountain, and Holston Mountain block three sides of the valley and drain small brooks and streams into Beaver Dam creek which flows down the center. Formerly natural dams and ponds all along the creek caused the valley floor to become wetlands, home to a number of rare and unique plants and wildlife.
The area derives it name from the huge pines that used to thrive in the damp soil, casting shade over the entire region. The cranberry bogs found in Shady are the only of their kind in the state of Tennessee and are the most southerly found in the Appalachians. These swamps are home to some of the most rare wildlife in the region, such as the southern bog turtle.
Yet, although the festival bears the name of the fruit, the cranberry is not the only heritage that festival-goers are celebrating. Built in 1936 by the Works Progress Authority (WPA), Shady Valley Elementary has been serving the people of the area ever since and has become the cornerstone of the community. As a part of the Johnson County School system, it was the first school in the county to consolidate, bringing together four local one-room schoolhouses that were in poor shape in the 1930s. Local residents raised a little over $900 to purchase a piece of land that contained a natural spring that still supplies water to the school today.
The WPA was a New Deal program that had been created during the Great Depression for the purpose of creating jobs and improving communities across the nation. Made of all local materials, including a field rock exterior, the school was finally completed and opened by 1938.
Originally serving first through eighth grades, the school was renovated in 1952 and had dropped to sixth grade with the opening of the Johnson County Middle School in 1976. As the years have gone by, the school has been able to remain up-to-date while still holding onto its long history. The school has also created a strong sense of pride and dedication in the community, and as a result much of the proceeds from the Cranberry Festival goes to purchase supplies for the school.
The festival is organized each year by the Cranberry Festival committee and kicks off the second weekend in October. Friday night always features an excellent bean supper followed by an auction organized by the teachers at the school. This year there were over 100 items auctioned off. All of the items are donated and all the money generated goes to the school.
Saturday morning featured a long parade that began near the fire station on Highway 421 and made its way down to the school. Judging was held for the best float and this year’s first place went to the Shady Valley sixth grade class. Second place went to the Girl Scouts and third went to Long Family Farms. In addition to the creative floats, the parade also featured a collection of classic cars, trucks, and tractors.
The parade ended on the school grounds where more than 30 vendors selling a variety of food and crafts were set up in long rows of tents. Selling homemade apple butter, Linda Haerr displayed her techniques while cooking her wares in a copper kettle over an open fire. Haerr will typically sell 200 to 300 jars of the apple butter each year. There were also vendors selling native plants, including potted cranberries, and making balloon animals for the children.
Following an opening invocation by Mr. Tracy Dugger and a rendition of the national anthem by the Johnson County High School band, guest introductions were announced including many local elected officials ranging from Congressman Phil Roe, to State Representative Scotty Campbell, Johnson County Mayor Larry Potter, and County Commissioner Huey Long. The sixth grade princesses and princes of the parade were also introduced on the stage and the entire school body gave a performance of various songs including “Rocky Top.”
In the school itself a vast collection of Indian artifacts were on display and a quilting competition was held. Visitors would view the quilt submissions on display in the gym and vote on which were their favorites. There were also several inflatable rides on the school grounds and children’s games and activities.
With the sunny weather and fall’s colors on the mountains, the turnout this year was excellent, leading to a large crowd wandering through the tents and school. Shady Valley is a unique community that has a great deal of pride in its past and present. The Cranberry Festival is a wonderful way to showcase that uniqueness while at the same time supporting the community’s future.