Organizers and others involved with the first Brushy Mountain Peach and Heritage Festival in Wilkesboro Saturday agreed that the event was a big success.
Attendance, estimated at 5,000 or more, and other aspects of the festival exceeded expectations, said Phil Fagg, president of the Brushy Mountain Community Center. Volunteers with that organization organized the festival.
Fagg said many of the 40-plus vendors at the event sold the majority of the merchandise they brought and asked for the same vendor spaces at next year’s festival. It was held on the Wilkes Communications Commons and on North Bridge Street.
Realizing that the loads of peaches, nectarines and early apple varieties they initially brought weren’t enough, orchardists made multiple trips to their apple houses in the nearby Brushy Mountain community for more.
Armit Tevepaugh said he quickly sold out of the 24 bushels he first brought to town and ended up selling about 50 bushels by the end of the day. Gray Faw said he sold about 85 bushels, which included plums.
Business was brisk for restaurants and some of other businesses on Wilkesboro’s Main Street.
Keith Church, president of the Beekeepers of Wilkes, said the organization was pleased with the number of people who stopped by to learn about honeybees, with many purchasing “peach tea” (tea with honey) and straws of honey. There was plenty of honey for sale by multiple vendors.
The Wilkes Heritage Museum, adjacent to the Wilkes Communications Commons, had an excellent day Saturday in both visitation and gift shop sales, said Jennifer Furr, museum director. The museum had live music and other special programs that day, plus the splash pad on the museum front lawn was popular among children.
“We estimated about 550 people came through the museum,” said Furr, adding that volunteers staffing the nearby Cleveland log house and Old Wilkes Jail reported steady traffic.
She said admission fees were waived Saturday since admission to the festival was free, but a substantial amount of money was received in donations. Furr said it was hard to know what to expect since this was the inaugural festival, but next year museum officials will know better when and where to position volunteers to serve the public.
Fagg said it was also a tremendous learning experience for Brushy Mountain Community Center volunteers. While the festival is fresh on everyone’s minds, he said, the organizers will meet this week to discuss various aspects of the event. Fagg said they’ll also meet with town staff for the same sort of review.
Organizers worked closely with town staff on various aspects of the festival.
Assistant Town Manager Bob Urness said the Brushy Mountain Community Center wasn’t charged for use of the Wilkes Communications Commons and Carolina West Wireless Pavilion because festival organizers approached the town about hosting the event before a fee schedule was adopted. Assuming the festival is held there again next year, said Urness, the nonprofit rate of $100 per day with a $50 application fee will apply.
Wilkesboro Mayor Mike Inscore said the festival was a “resounding success.”
Inscore said the size of the vendor area and number of vendors in the commons and on North Bridge Street worked well with the size of the crowd. He explained that festival-goers were able to easily move through the crowd and didn’t have far to walk wherever they wanted to go.
He said discussions now will likely include how much more the festival should be encouraged to grow, which includes consideration of expanding to Main Street, North Street and elsewhere. “How intimate should it be?” he added.
In a brief opening ceremony Saturday, Inscore said town staff and festival organizers held many joint meetings to plan the event. Councilmen Jimmy Hayes and Russ Ferree also spoke.
During the ceremony, Fagg said the festival was organized to showcase and promote the orchards and heritage (including religious heritage) of the Brushy Mountain community, raise funds for college scholarships and other community needs and to develop and grow relationships in the community.
Fagg also thanked the Wilkesboro Town Council, town staff, festival committee members of the Brushy Mountain Community Center “and all our volunteers” for their support and efforts. Among town staff, he said Planning and Community Development Director Andrew Carlton and Town Planner Christina Walsh were especially helpful.
He said community center board member Debi Davis, one of the organizers of the Brushy Mountain Apple Festival as a member of the Brushy Mountain Ruritan Club, was the lead organizer of the Brushy Mountain Peach and Heritage Festival.
Fagg said Gray and Tosha Faw of Parker’s Orchard and Jim Isley helped as members of the festival committee for several months. Other community center officers are Arthur Lowe Jr., vice president; and Hope Coffey, treasurer; Donna Poole, secretary. Other board members are Chuck Elledge, Larry Melton and Sandy Miller.
Rebecca Lowe and Beth Fuller appeared on stage on behalf of their mother, festival guest of honor Louise Fuller of the Brushy Mountain community. Lowe gave biographical information about their mother, a nurse who served people in the Brushy Mountain community and elsewhere for many years.
Fagg also called on the Rev. Jonah Parker, a veteran orchardist in the Brushy Mountain community, to give the invocation.
Parker also gave a brief history of commercial peach production in the Brushies, saying it largely began from two men from outside Wilkes buying the old Penny Orchard on Pike Road and growing peaches there in the early 1900s. Other orchardists were inspired to do the same, he said.