BUCKHANNON — The West Virginia Strawberry Festival royalty made their own Mountain Memories this week at the 76th West Virginia Strawberry Festival.
Queen Lexi Webb, King Joseph Robinson and Teen Queen Sydni Smith made Buckhannon home for the week as they took in all the events, from the Horse and Carriage Parade on Saturday, May 13 to the final day’s itinerary on Sunday, May 21 that included a miniature horse show, canoe race and golf tournament.
“It’s been tiring but exciting,” Webb said. “I’ve gotten to go to a lot of places and judge a lot of things, which was fun and challenging at times since the arts and crafts and quilts were so good. It’s been a long week but I have enjoyed it.”
Saturday’s sunny skies and soaring temperatures were another challenge for not only the royalty but all the parade units.
“It was extremely hot, “ Webb said. “At one point, I almost felt like I was going to pass out, but I was super excited to be in the parade. All the little girls that were on my float, in my court, really looked up to me at that point in time. I loved seeing all the people come out. It was a lot of fun.”
This was Webb’s second time in Buckhannon at the West Virginia Strawberry Festival, but her first as the reigning royalty.
“I came last year for the Grand Feature Parade as visiting royalty, but that is the only time I have been here,” she said. “It’s definitely different being so involved. This is the biggest pageant that I have won. It’s a huge, historic and prestigious festival and just being able to reign over it as queen has been amazing. It’s been a lot more than I have ever experienced before, but I have had a great time doing it.”
Smith, the teen queen, was at her very first West Virginia Strawberry Festival and said one of her favorite things was judging the art show because she was impressed by the creativity and talent exhibited.
There are many other memories that Smith will take with her.
“It’s been very exciting,” she said. “Riding in the parades and seeing all the little girls look up at me.”
Another highlight has been bonding with Webb. The two share a suite at the Camden Apartments and have spent so much time together they are now joined at the hip.
Debra Hupp, festival president and long-time board member, said, “We couldn’t have asked for better weather conditions. Everything was well attended and the crowds seemed to be more this year. At the parade, they were sitting four and five rows deep in some places. There were lots of umbrellas out, but this year that was due to the sun and not the rain.”
The sunny, warm weather during festival week was the culmination of a mild winter that helped strawberry growers statewide have a successful harvest ready in time for the festival.
“We had three to four times the amount of berries from the state growers and the strawberry auction was bigger than normal,” Hupp said.
Jennifer Smith, deputy communications director for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, was at one of two strawberry booths the department staffs on Friday and Saturday at the festival with fresh berries from West Virginia growers.
“It’s going great,” she said Friday afternoon. “We set up this morning and we have sold dozens of pints of berries. I think people want to try local berries, and all of these came from here in West Virginia. We have folks from Monroe County, Kanawha County and Mineral County who all brought berries here. It’s a great way for them to get the word out about their farm and what they produce.”
“It got a little warmer a little sooner,” she added. “Usually during the festival, the berries aren’t quite ready unless they are in a high tunnel, but this year we had some in the fields that are ready because they ripened two to three weeks earlier because of the weather.
The money raised from the sale goes back to the growers.
“I think people will be amazed at just how different the berries are from those in a store that come from Florida,” she said. “Just how sweet, tasty and fresh these are. Most of these were picked fresh this morning, so they are right off the vine.”
Besides bountiful berries, Hupp said what stood out to her this year was the way the kids and adults flocked to Batman as the parade marshal. Batman was played by John Buckland, founder of Heroes-4-Higher, which inspires children to be the hero by never giving up, always doing the right thing, helping other people and never being a bully. The parade marshal rode in the Fireman’s Parade and, of course, the Grand Feature Parade. He also parked on Main Street Friday and Saturday and spent time talking with festival-goers about his message.
The Xpogo stunt team also drew large crowds for their performances on Main Street and seemed to be a big hit, Hupp added.
Hupp said the festival’s state funding has been cut in recent years. The Grand Feature Parade was leaner than in previous years.
“We have to work with what we have and make it the best we can,” she said. “We hope everyone who feels they want to help will jump on board next year.”
Call the festival office at 304-472-9036 if interested in being a sponsor or volunteer.
Although the 2017 WVSF will be on the books by the time this article publishes, Hupp said the festival association is already looking forward to 2018 and the 77th West Virginia Strawberry Festival May 12-20.
“We hope to make 2018 bigger and better,” she said.