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Roane County ready for 58th annual Black Walnut Festival

SPENCER - Roane County is prepared for a four-day population explosion.

The 58th annual Black Walnut Festival starts today and runs through Sunday in downtown Spencer.

"On Saturday, if the sun shines, and with it being an election year, we could have 50,000 people," predicted Spencer Mayor Terry Williams. That's a considerable boost to the town's population of 14,500.

"Saturday is our largest day with the grand parade," he added.

The mayor said many visitors come from other counties and even other states. Some have Roane County roots going back a generation or two, he said. The city is glad to see them and tries to make sure they have a good time.

"We prepare and we're pretty good," Williams said. "We have parking in designated areas and shuttle buses. People open their driveways and yards. People park at businesses on the outskirts and at school properties."

While some area establishments do a booming business, others close their doors to enjoy festivities, the mayor said.

"Restaurants do a huge business," he said.

Williams, who grew up in Spencer, has served as mayor for 36 years. He has seen the festival grow tremendously over the years without losing its magic.

"As a kid, the big thrill was to watch the parade," he said. "Even in college, I would come back on Saturday to watch the parade."

The Grand Parade begins at noon Saturday and will be dedicated this year to law enforcement officers throughout West Virginia.

The parade will feature more than 20 high school marching bands as well as other groups and colorful floats. The mayor said officials make an effort to keep the extravaganza under two hours.

Also impressive is the Kids Day Parade set for noon Friday for ages 12 and under, he said. There are many handmade floats with participants representing schools, churches and other organizations.

The mayor said the second parade for kids was scheduled several years ago because the featured parade had grown so large.

"The festival has changed a lot," he said. "There are a lot more activities and things for people to do. We have crafts, arts, photo shows, livestock exhibit, music and food galore. You can even have pancakes with walnuts. We have 30 food vendors, a nut run, shows for kids and glass blowing demonstrations. They will even make you a glass walnut."

There are 21 carnival rides and several game booths. Single tickets are four for $5. On Thursday and Friday, armbands cost $12 from 1 to 5 p.m. or $15 after 6 p.m. Armbands are $18 on Saturday and $10 on Sunday.

The craft show will feature 30 artisans with wares such as blankets, aprons, baskets, soaps, candles, clothing, woodcrafts, floral arrangements, puppets, jewelry, leather goods, furniture, birdhouses, and purses.

The quilt show will feature more than 60 quilts.

The Black Walnut Festival began in 1954 as a one-day event. People once lined up for miles with trucks filled with black walnuts as they headed to Spencer to sell them. Kids with stained fingers picked up the wild crop. Hullers were set up to crack the hard shells.  

"Twelve to 15 years ago, the Eastern black walnut got a virus," the mayor said. "The kernels were black and the ladies did not want to cook with them. The period passed, but we haven't had a huller in here for 10 years. We hope to get a walnut huller in here again, but it's a lot of work, a big commitment and not a big money maker."

While this year's crop looks good, prepackaged black walnuts will be sold from Hammons Product Co. in Missouri. Also, festivalgoers will have a choice of foods including candy, cookies, cake and ice cream, all sprinkled with black walnuts.

For a complete schedule of events, visit www.wvblackwalnutfestival.org.

Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at charlotte@dailymail.com or 304-348-1246.


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