BUCKHANNON – The 79th West Virginia Strawberry Festival may have been shorter than in recent years, but it was also sweeter, its president told Buckhannon City Council Thursday.
Shane Jenkins, president of the WVSF Board of Directors, came to council’s May 20 meeting to thank city officials for collaborating with festival organizers.
The abbreviated festival, which spanned just four days as opposed to two weekends and the week in between, drew a record turnout for the West Virginia Classic Wheels Car Club’s Cruise-in that took place Saturday on Main Street.
“We had a record high attendance at our cruise-in and a huge turnout for our craft show,” Jenkins told city officials. “We had very successful band and entertainment performances. Our events ran a lot more smoothly than in past recent years and we were happy to be able to provide multiple children’s activities since they haven’t been able to get out a whole lot.”
The city annually contributes money – this year, it gave $10,000 – to the festival as well as in-kind services, including post-festival street cleanup, but this year, municipal officials worked with the festival board to stake out a new venue for food vendors and entertainment – centrally located Jawbone Park. Food vendors were relocated, in part, because of construction on the North Spring Street.
Although the festival board was initially disappointed that the 79th annual event would not include its hallmarks due to pandemic-related protocols – particularly the carnival and handful parades – the shortened time frame enabled organizers to focus on coordinating quality events, Jenkins said.
“Our modified festival was really a blessing in disguise to us,” he said. “We think a lot of people enjoyed it who came out. We were fortunate to have a very progressive group of individuals who heavily focused on our finances and the quality of our events – it really paid off for us.”
Sunny skies and warmer temperatures on festival weekend pleasantly surprised board members.
“We made changes where needed and we also preserved our important festival traditions,” Jenkins said. “We made improvements in accountability, financial standards and operations.”
“I think I’ve even convinced some people that the changes we made helped and changed our traditional rainy weather this year,” he joked.
The annual red berry bonanza also served as a welcome reprieve for many people.
“We put a Strawberry back on the map in West Virginia, and I’m proud of that,” he said. “We gave the community hope, relief and inspiration. In a time of quiet, darkness and frowns, we created sound, light and smiles. We did what many people said we couldn’t do, and I’m proud to say that we did it safely and efficiently.”
The WVSF Board of Directors strengthened its relationship with the city, Jenkins said, noting board members would be on standby should the city need help in orchestrating events for the 2021 World Association of Marching Showbands Championship, slated for summer of 2023.
“Thanks to the mayor, council and city employees for everything they did for us this festival and leading up to this festival,” Jenkins said. “I think we’ve strengthened our relationship this year, and I hope to see that progress in future years.”
The festival wasn’t without a few bumps in the road; for instance, the board had to adjust when Governor Jim Justice lifted the indoor mask mandate just hours before coronation May 13.
However, successful events weren’t the festival board’s only accomplishments. A year after the event was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, the WVSF facilitated the vaccination of more than 100 people at Saturday’s clinic at Community Care of W.Va., Jenkins said.
Plans are already under way for the 80th festival, and Jenkins is hoping he’ll be tapped to head it up again as president.
“We’re planning for a full festival,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do ahead of us, and I just can’t say thank you enough to the community, the board of directors and everyone who came out and supported us this year.”
Councilwoman Pam Bucklew, councilman CJ Rylands and mayor Robbie Skinner congratulated the board on a successful event, and city recorder Randy Sanders said he’d gotten positive feedback about Jawbone Park anchoring the festival.
“It was a very well-coordinated event from start to finish,” Sanders said. “Well done.”
Bucklew said she hoped the city could assist the festival in finding a permanent headquarters in the future.
“Down the road, I would love to see the Strawberry Festival get a permanent home,” she said. “Hopefully down the road, the city can maybe help out with that because other festivals, big festivals, have their own headquarters and that’s what the Strawberry Festival needs.”