BUCKHANNON – The flame is lit and the West Virginia Strawberry Festival has officially returned to Buckhannon after a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the opening ceremonies Wednesday, Buckhannon-Upshur officials thanked the Strawberry Festival Board of Directors for bringing the beloved springtime event back to town after a challenging year.
Board members, local residents, festival royalty, and city and county officials gathered to light the festival flame at noon Wednesday in front of the Upshur County Courthouse. Mayor Robbie Skinner said the city is proud to host such a large event every year.
“Thanks to everybody who came out today,” Skinner said. “The City of Buckhannon is always thrilled to support and host the West Virginia Strawberry Festival. This is the 79th year — it’s one of the oldest festivals in the state, and I believe it’s still in its in its prime. It’s considered to be the largest festival in the State of West Virginia, and we congratulate all the royalty who are here with us.”
Matasha Weaver sang the national anthem.
“I went to high school with Matasha, and I didn’t think her voice could get any prettier than when we were in high school, but it certainly has,” Skinner said. “You did a wonderful job, honoring our country. I want to thank the Upshur County Honor Guard for their service to our country as well as being here today to help us open the West Virginia Strawberry Festival, and of course, thanks to all the board members for their hard work throughout the year to put this event together. We know it feels a bit different this year, but I’m certain that the essence of the festival will be felt throughout the week and weekend.”
Upshur County Commission President Kristie Tenney also complimented the board for persevering over many months of planning, especially when it would have been easy to simply cancel the festival again this year.
“On behalf of Commissioner [Terry] Cutright, Commissioner [Sam] Nolte and myself, I would like to take a moment to applaud the West Virginia Strawberry Festival Board of Directors and all the volunteers that have given their time and put in hours of preparation so that we could continue to enjoy our beloved festival in a year when it would have been easy to abort,” Tenney said. “You took the challenge so that all of us may enjoy the 79th Strawberry Festival and continue our tradition and for that, we commend you.”
She also thanked city and county employees for the work they have done to prepare the community for the event.
“We would also like to thank the city employees for their ongoing efforts to ensure Buckhannon continues to be one of the most attractive cities in West Virginia, and thank you to our county employees who are always willing to jump in and help whenever they are needed,” Tenney said. “We appreciate all our first responders who are there for us at a moment’s notice, 365 days a year.”
Tenney encouraged locals and visitors to visit small businesses while enjoying the festivities.
“Lastly, we would also like to take a moment to recognize our military and thank them for their service and the sacrifices they have made for all of us,” Tenney said. “As we conclude, we hope that you all enjoy the events during the upcoming weekend, and if you’re out and about taking in the strawberry activities, we encourage you to stop by some of our local shops as well.”
Strawberry Board President Shane Jenkins announced the theme of the 2021 festival and recognized the spirit winners.
“Our theme winner was Heather Hull,” Jenkins said. “Our theme for this year is, ‘Home is Where the Strawberries Are.’ Our board actually picked this theme two years ago for the 79th festival, and of course we couldn’t use it until we actually had a festival this year, so thank you to Heather Hull,” Jenkins said.
The spirit winners are usually community members who help the strawberry board and genuinely want to be part of the festival.
“They want to make the community better and be a part of everything that we’ve got going on, and this year we actually decided that our spirit winners were going to be multiple people — we chose our first responders in the county,” Jenkins said. “That’s our local fire departments, police departments, everyone involved with first responding. We thank them for everything they’ve done throughout the pandemic and everything they do for us during the festival.”