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Town of Damascus, VA swells to 20,000 for 2016 Appalachian Trail Days Festival

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By:  Rebecca Herman

Freelance Writer

Since 1987, hikers and nature enthusiasts have gathered in Damascus, Virginia, to celebrate the Appalachian Trail Days Festival. This festival has grown from a “few hundred people in 1987 to a projected 20,000” for this year’s 30th annual festival. People travel from all over the globe to visit “The Friendliest Town on the Trail” during the second weekend in May, to celebrate trail victories, remember past adventures, and to make new friends.

According to Mayor of Damascus, Jack McCrady, “Trail Days is the largest organized backpacking event in the world, celebrating the AT and its heritage with good food, fellowship, and activities for everyone.” This year’s event was the biggest to date, with record numbers of vendors, sponsors, and attendees. Each day offered a packed schedule of events to keep festival goers busy and entertained.

The crowd favorite seemed to be the Trail Days annual Hiker Parade that takes place on Saturday. This parade celebrates local Scout troops, beauty queens, clubs, and those hikers who have completed the AT in past years. This year the town of Damascus honored Gene Espy as the grand marshal of the parade and named May 14 to be known as Gene Espy Day. Espy was the second person to complete a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail; he completed his hike in 1951. After he completed his thru-hike, Espy wrote a novel about his many adventures on the trail. People come from all over to enjoy the variety of festivities, including Connie Pruett from Mitchell County, North Carolina. Pruett runs Greasy Creek Friendly Hostel in Bakersville, North Carolina. Pruett said that she loves to see the hikers in the parade and has been coming to Trail Days since 2001. Pruett also discussed the desire to help hikers. “It’s kind of like a rare virus you get; you want to feed or house hikers. I have a little oasis in the middle of nowhere, and I love taking care of the people that come through on the trail.”

Throughout the weekend there are several opportunities to hear live music and try local cuisine. Many musical performances occurred at the Town Park Gazebo with performances by Wiregrass, The Boys, Shady Appalachia, The Edge, Church Hill Music Co., Monster Atlantic, Brothers Egg, and Harpeth Rising.

To read the entire article, pick up a copy of this week’s Tomahawk.