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Storm clouds couldn't drive crowds away from the 2014 Shady Valley Cranberry Festival

Lacy Hilliard
Tomahawk Writer, Photographer

Shady Valley was alight in stunning crimson and gold as it played host to the Annual Cranberry Festival. Though the din of gray hovering ominously over the valley made its presence known once or twice, the dramatic skies only added to the breathtaking beauty of Shady Valley, Tennessee.
The occasional downpours at the 2014 Cranberry Festival did nothing to dampen the spirits of festivalgoers and men, women and children of all ages came out to enjoy the festivities. The museum set up inside the historic river rock confines of Shady Valley Elementary School provided both a welcome retreat from the raindrops and lesson in local heritage. The museum showcased hundreds of artifacts, each shining light on the way of life in Shady Valley in days gone by. The items on display in the museum were donated for viewing by various local families and organizations. This year, the festival celebrated Shady Valley Elementary School’s 75th birthday. Viewing items like the Crandull Church of Christ register circa 1923 or the Rose Tree Quilt, appliquéd in 1861 while inside the 75-year-old rock school certainly added to the nostalgia. It’s clear that the residents of Shady Valley, past and present, are proud of their home. The care in which each piece was preserved only added to illuminate the local pride felt by Shady Valley’s residents.

Appropriately, Shady Valley is as unique in landscape as it is in heritage and the gorgeous valley houses a rare and celebrated ecosystem. Parts of Shady Valley are considered a high-elevation (2,800 feet) wetland and it’s 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. Because of its diverse ecosystem, 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 encompasses 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. Free tours of the Nature Conservancy grounds were offered during the 2014 Cranberry Festival.

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