My wife Mary, her sister Carol and myself began an early morning drive to the Cranberry Festival in beautiful Shady Valley Saturday. It had been a few years since we had taken in the sights and sounds of that event. The air was pleasantly brisk and there was a sense that fall had already turned the corner and soon the trees resplendent in their red, yellow and orange leaves would put on their annual show. Some leaves had already started to turn. We chose the route to Shady Valley through Damascus, Virginia, a very scenic drive. We took Route 91 to 58 to 133 traveling through the famed Backbone Rock. Seeing that monolith and traveling through it brought back memories of my childhood when my family and relatives would have picnics there and have a lot of fun and fellowship that being in the outdoors and sharing a meal together seems to enhance.
As we traveled we could hardly wait to savor the delicious taste of the festivals famous pancakes, some enhanced with cranberries. We were not disappointed. The Shady Valley Fire Hall was the site of the pancake breakfast. A stack of pancakes, a large patty of sausage and a hot cup of good coffee got us ready for the rest of the festivities. And there was much to see and do as the rest of the activities got underway.
It was nearing time for the Cranberry Festival Parade to start and our next project was to find a good parking place that would enable us to see the parade up close. We found the perfect spot not far from Shady Valley Elementary School. Anticipation increased as we awaited the first of the entries in the parade. After waiting a while, sirens could be heard at the crossroads (intersection of Hwy. 91 and Hwy 133). Not long after that, the first unit in the parade came in sight. It was a very nice parade and Festival folks can be proud of it. The Johnson County High School marching band performed well as its members stepped high and played a number of favorites. Also in the parade there were fire trucks, classic cars, trick maneuvering motorcycles, classic tractors, ATVs, old farm machinery, horses and a host of other participants I was pleasantly surprised by the length of the parade. I definitely want to return next year.
Next came our visit to the venders who were selling from their sites near the Shady Valley School. There were many venders selling items such as jellies, fried pies, craft jewelry, paintings, woodcrafts and many others. It was there that we met some of our relatives and friends that we hadnt seen for awhile. The Shady Valley Cranberry Festival was well attended. I almost forgot, there were helicopter rides for the more adventurous souls.
Shady Valley once supported a community of plant and animal life. As the population grew and wetlands were drained, it became important to try to preserve those plants and animals that are rare and threatened. The nature conservancy purchased its first nature reserve in 1979 and now owns 705 acres in the Valley. The Valley reportedly supports some 25 rare plants and animals. The valleys wetlands are said to be one of only two places in Tennessee where cranberries grow naturally.
Appropriately, the Cranberry Festival is held annually to raise money for Shady Valley Elementary School. The school itself has an interesting history. It was the first result of consolidation in Johnson County. Building began on the school plant in 1936 by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), an agency put in place during President Roosevelts presidency to provide jobs in a time when jobs were rare. It was opened for occupancy in 1938, which I might add was the year of my birth. Four schools in Shady Valley were consolidated to make the new school: Shady Flats, Winchester, Crandull and Harmon.