You could almost see it on the faces: The glazed look of winter doldrums were replaced with smiles, hand-clapping and bright eyes as folks shook off cabin fever and came out to celebrate the heritage of the mountains.
The fifth annual Winter Heritage Festival in Townsend from Feb. 3-6 drew crowds at almost every venue for an event that has grown in popularity every year.
“It is a really good, cheerful, wintertime, get-out-and-shake-off-the-cabin-fever event,” said Jeanie Hilten, special events coordinator with the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Especially this winter, people were looking for something really good to do, and the businesses who supported us were great.”
The festival was a four-day celebration of the area’s historic culture. Families tied to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the mountains joined with historians, artisans and experts on the area’s natural resources in a series of classes, tours, exhibits, music performances, hikes and demonstrations.
Events were held at the Townsend Visitors Center, the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, Cades Cove, Little River Railroad Museum, Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and several businesses in Townsend.
“It was a terrific event. There was a good variety of people and activities and locations in Townsend, in Maryville and in the Smokies,” Hilten said. “Most of venues were full. We had a few less on the hikes, but we think that was mostly from bad weather. I would say, adding it up, there were a couple thousand folks here. All of the locations for talks and concerts and other kinds of presentations were just about always full. We were glad to see that.”
Hilten said there were historical talks regarding Cades Cove families and the Little River Railroad and volunteers who guided special hikes in the Park. “We had cast iron cooking demonstrations, civil war re-enactors and special evening programs,” she said.
The kickoff was at the Blount County Historical Museum and Cades Cove Museum at the Thompson Brown House in Maryville on Thursday night, Feb. 3. Then on Friday night, Feb. 4, there was Cherokee flute music and storytelling at Dancing Bear Lodge. On Saturday night, Feb. 4, there was a barbecue supper at the Barn Event Center featuring Highland Scottish dancing and square dancing.
On Sunday, Feb. 6, “Precious Memories IV,” organized by the Cades Cove Preservation Association, drew folks to the Big Valley Resort, as a program of remembrances with descendents of Cade Cove families unfolded.
“The thing that struck me most was the talent and enthusiasm and the fascinating research that has been done by people in our own back door to discover what is significant and authentic about this region,” Hilten said. “We had great crafts people in the Visitors Center and wonderful music that highlighted the history of the area. It seems crafts and music carry on a sense of place and tradition. They carry the past into the present and future.”
The Winter Heritage Festival is supported by the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Great Smoky Mountains Association, Friends of the Smokies, Big Meadow Family Campground, The Chocolate Bar Shop, Trillium Cove Shopping Village, Byron’s Printing and WBIR-TV.
The next event is the Smoky Mountains Fiber Arts Festival on March 17-19.
“There will be workshops with everything from spinning to knitting, and then we’ll have demonstrations of border collie sheep-herding, sheep shearing and a whole array of other activities for families and people,” Hilten said.
For more information, visit www.smokymountains.org.