The Sylva Herald

For the first time since 1974, the joys of mountain culture shared by young and old alike will be missed as Mountain Heritage Day is canceled.

Mountain Heritage Day, the annual community and campus celebration of Southern Appalachian culture presented by Western Carolina University since 1974, will not happen this year.

Organizers said the decision to not hold the 2020 festival was a reluctant one, made with a forecast by public health experts that a second wave of coronavirus cases will likely occur this fall. Always held on the last Saturday in September, Mountain Heritage Day regularly draws crowds of 15,000 or more.

“We have to put the community’s well-being first,” said Stacy MacGregor, event chair and the university’s director of marketing and brand. “And we felt it was best to make an announcement as soon as possible, out of consideration to the many musicians, vendors, artisans and craftsmen, as well as our guests, who make Mountain Heritage Day a success, year after year.”

The festival is known for bluegrass, old-time and traditional music performances throughout the day, a morning 5K race organized and hosted by students in WCU’s sport management program, chainsaw and timber sports competitions, an antique and classic car and truck show, Cherokee stickball games and plenty of festival food, along with tractor rides, storytelling and sing-alongs.

The festival started as Founders’ Day on Oct. 26, 1974, at the inauguration ceremony of WCU Chancellor H.F. “Cotton” Robinson, and became known as Mountain Heritage Day the following year. The festival is renowned for family activities and has been named as one of the top 20 festivals in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society.

“Mountain Heritage Day will be back,” MacGregor said. “We’ll bring people together again in a safe, fun environment where the only worry is what to see or do next. Perhaps the best way to look at it is we now have a head start on the best festival yet in 2021.”

Other events typically on the fall semester calendar at WCU are canceled.

New Student Convocation, which provides an introduction to academic life for Western’s newest students, and Valley Ballyhoo, the university’s annual welcome back festival, will not be held this fall. New Student Convocation may be held via video livestream or some other virtual method later in the fall. New students will receive information online about recognized student organizations and other community resources, a process used in the past when Valley Ballyhoo was canceled because of weather.

The annual Freshman Run, which sees first-year students dash across Bob Waters Field in E.J. Whitmire Stadium prior to kickoff at the Catamounts’ first home football game, also is canceled for this fall.

Other events on tap for Family Weekend, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 18-20, are being reviewed by university officials.

Also under review is a week of events leading up to homecoming weekend, set for Oct. 2-4. The annual homecoming parade, held in downtown Sylva on the Friday prior to the homecoming football game, is canceled for this year.

The Department of Campus Activities is not making plans for any concerts in Hinds University Center, the Ramsey Center or outdoors at the Central Plaza.