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Damascus streets come alive with annual Trail Days Festival

By Lacy Hilliard
This past weekend, our neighbors in Damascus, VA hosted their annual Appalachian Trail Days Festival. Trail Days was developed to celebrate Appalachian Trail thru-hikers (meaning they plan to hike the 2,184 mile trail in its entirety) as they pass through Damascus on their journey. The town of Damascus has earned a reputation amongst hikers as “the friendliest town on the trail” and each year, it is slated as a destination for hundreds of thru-hikers and section hikers. Trail Days is not just a celebration of current hikers but is also a popular site for past thru-hiker reunions. The variety of license plates lining Laurel Avenue was proof of the diversity of the festival’s attendees. As the annual “Hiker Parade” moves down the avenue, a town-wide celebration of friends old and new awakens the otherwise quiet town.
Appalachian Trail Days is an eight-day event and this year the festivities kicked off on Saturday, May 12 with the annual town-wide yard sale followed by the arrival of vendors on the following Friday. The hikers arrive sporadically throughout the week setting up tents at the hiker campground or utilizing local hostels or bed and breakfasts. Though the town park is full of vendors and events, the festival is a town-wide celebration. Many local businesses, organizations, and individuals celebrate Trail Days by hosting a variety of events from compelling lectures to dinners to movies. Perhaps one of the most intriguing guests at this year’s Trail Days was famous adventurer and author of the book “The Trail of My Life,” Gene Espy. The 86-year-old Espy spoke to festival-goers about his 1951 thru-hiking experience. Espy recounted his tale with humor and was candid when answering questions about his experience. One attendee asked what his parents thought about the then 25-year-old Espy’s thru-hiking aspirations. To this he replied, “That’s easy; I didn’t tell my parents.” Gene Espy is just one in a myriad of interesting speakers. Scott “Taba” Ward was also invited to speak about his experience with 18 United States Marines that hiked North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail to benefit the Semper Fi fund. Ward acted as guide for the Marines throughout the journey and he is also the author of the Mountains-To-Sea Trail Thru-Hikers Manual. Other speakers included, Brad “Old Buzzard” Cook, Richard Smith, Randy and LuAnne Anderson, Scott “Squatch” Herriot, Warren Doyle, and Jennifer Pharr Davis.
Trail Days has grown in size and sponsorship. The bustling festival now boasts huge corporate sponsors like Backpacker, Granite Gear, and Birkenstock. Local businesses like Sundog Outfitter and Mt. Rogers Outfitters have also remained loyal to the festival. Nearly every locally owned business in Damascus sponsors some sort of Trail Days event; however the local churches and organizations are also at the forefront of Trail Days activities. First Baptist Church in Damascus hosts an astounding number of events that provides hikers with everything from showers, to free medical exams, to gear repair, and even home cooked meals. First Baptist has long been a supporter of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers and works throughout the year to fundraise for these events.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.