By Bonnie Davis Guy
A bright blue sky and scenery worthy of being on an autumn greeting card was the backdrop for the annual Shady Valley Cranberry Festival October 14th and 15th. A bean supper kicked off the two-day festival which also included live music, a pancake breakfast, over 50 vendor booths featuring a variety of food, crafts, and local wares. For the youngsters there were train rides and several inflatables and bounce houses. Anna and Elsa from Frozen as well as Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean were also in attendance and happy to pose for pictures.
On Saturday morning, following a brief address to the crowd by State Representative Timothy Hill, adults and children alike lined the street in front of the festival grounds in anticipation of the parade, which did not disappoint. The Johnson County High School marching band followed by fire engines both new and antique as well as a variety of antique tractors lead the way, followed closely by vintage cars of all makes, models, and years. Floats of every shape and size featuring smiling faces and happy waves were next. Bringing up the end was a pair of beautiful horses being ridden in expert equestrian style. Finally, to the delight of the children, plenty of candy was given out.
Vendors with everything from fresh corn on the cob and homemade ice cream to artisans with jewelry and handmade treasures were setup. Several booths, which featured jams and jellies as well as other local goods, were offering samples of their delights. Many craftsmen were also set up displaying and selling goods ranging from stone candles, soaps, handcrafted wooden treasures to several booths featuring a variety of primitive art and collectables. Handcrafted kitchen towels and oven dresses were also very popular. Unique clothing and custom jewelry were also available. It’s an understatement to say there was a little something for every taste and budget.
If you left the festival hungry it was not because there wasn’t plenty of choices to tempt you. Funnel cakes, nachos, and kettle corn were some of the yummy treats available to test your will power. If you wanted a more substantial meal, look no further than the covered pavilion, which was set up with brats on the grill as well as cranberry chicken salad. Just up the way was delicious smelling BBQ. Needless to say, there were plenty of happy faces and full tummies walking around.
The festival is an annual event scheduled for the second weekend of October. The reason for the October date has to do with the life cycle of the honored cranberry. The American wild cranberry is a low growing evergreen shrub. Pink blooms/flowers appear in July and the waxy, tart berry ripens in early October. The cooler temperatures and wetlands of Shady Valley have allowed cold adapted ecosystems such as cranberry bogs to thrive much farther south than they usually are found. In fact, scientists think these bogs have been here since the last ice age. Shady Valley once had some 10,000 acres of bog land but construction in the mid 1960’s including the dredging of streambeds reduced the wetlands drastically.
More than 30 years ago the Nature Conservancy began working in Shady Valley along with East Tennessee State University and other programs to not only preserve the existing bog lands but also to also restore previously dried bog land to its natural state. According to the Nature Conservancy, these restoration efforts have been identified as the single most important factor in long term protection of rare wetlands species such as the wild cranberry and its neighbor the bog turtle. A full video documentary about these restoration efforts and the wild cranberry bogs in Shady Valley can be found at tnwildside.com.
The Shady Valley Cranberry Festival has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the best small festivals in Tennessee. Not only can you participate in some good old fashion fun, you can enjoy wonderful live music, great craft shopping and a variety of wonderful food all while honoring the unique efforts of the citizens of Shady Valley, the Nature Conservancy and East Tennessee State University in not only preserving but actually restoring this rare mountain wet-land ecosystem, the wild cranberry bog.