Pickens Maple Syrup Festival
Experience a small-town homecoming every March with delicious food and family fun in Pickens—a haven in the hardwood.
In its heyday, Pickens, nestled in the mountains of Randolph County, was a bustling small community supported by lumber mills and coal mines. Today, residents past and present take fierce pride in their hometown all year round while celebrating their love for Pickens every spring at the Maple Syrup Festival.
In 1971, founding members of the Pickens Historical and Improvement Society came together to write a historical account of the town, fix up the old train depot, and build new playground equipment for the area’s youth. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that the Society’s most lucrative event was instituted. New to the area, a sugaring entrepreneur Mike Richter came to a meeting promoting his new maple syrup business and proposed a festival, similar to a successful one in nearby Monterey, Virginia, which would showcase the state’s ability to produce syrup and raise funds for community improvement.
Though some were skeptical, town members embraced the idea and prepared to serve 500 people at the very first festival’s pancake feed in the American Legion Hall. With a little luck and some good advertising, the hall was out of food by noon on Saturday. “We recognized right from the start that this was the way to keep this little town going,” says festival volunteer Debbie Morgan.
Indeed, the celebration and hard work of volunteers keeps Pickens from deteriorating like so many beloved small towns. “Our main goal is to make enough money to keep the grass mowed and paint and preserve the buildings like the Roberts-Cunningham Museum and the old train depot,” says Society President Kim Dulaney. “We don’t get grants. We like to try and do it the old-fashioned way.”
Perhaps the most important way the festival helps the community is by bringing folks together. The endless family fun doesn’t just end with food. The art show at the depot, live music at the opera house, pottery sale at the fire hall, wood chopping demonstration at the Legion Hall, and activities for children keeps guests well entertained throughout the day. Whether you grew up in Pickens or you’re just passing through—you’re family. Those who return to the festival year in and year out—an estimated 8,000 will be visiting this March 20-21—will remember the town characters like Norman the doorman who wrangles feed-goers in line at the Legion Hall. Folks will also notice the physical changes and building updates that resulted from last year’s earnings.
After a long winter, the syrup itself seems like a sweet taste of change for a new year and new projects for the community. And year after year, volunteers and visitors young and old come back. Debbie says, “Pride just builds up in you, to be a part of this grass roots campaign to make our state better. Word of mouth works differently in West Virginia.”
This year’s Maple Syrup Festival is slated for March 17 and 18, 2012, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m; $7 for adults, $4 for children five and under.
Pickens Historical and Improvement Society, P.O. Box 94, Pickens, WV 26230; 304.924.5096