Updated: Mar 18, 2020
Based on the CDC's recommendations for Covid-19, the Maple Festival is now cancelled for 2020
Nestled at the tri-corner of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee in western Grayson County is the town of Whitetop. Named for the second highest peak in the state, Whitetop's population of around 400 people really know how to put on a festival! Think you have to travel to New England to see and taste pure maple syrup? Forget that! They do it at the Maple Festival every last weekend in March.
The best that folks can recollect is that the festival began sometime around 1977 as a way to raise enough funds to purchase the land and to build a much needed volunteer fire department in this isolated community. The festival was a huge success and has grown continually. The money raised at the Maple Festival is the main source of funds relied upon each year to maintain the fire and rescue service. It has changed some over the years; they no longer have a Maple Queen with her crown and banner (Rumor has it some of the volunteers may have past crowns hidden at home in closets!), but the main thing has stayed the same: PURE, DELICIOUS MAPLE SYRUP!
Beginning every December until sometime in January, somewhere between 4,500 and 7,000 taps are inserted into 1,500 trees. A quarter inch hole is drilled into the tree and a tap (sort of like a spigot) is inserted. Unlike some of the pictures I have seen, one tree gets tapped several times. As maple water begins to pour from the trees, it runs down lines, some gravity fed and some pumped, to a holding tank where it can only sit for a day or two. It must be put in an osmosis tank to pull out all impurities and then be boiled. The result...pure maple syrup. It's a complicated process that is very love and labor intensive. I learned some interesting facts. Many things impact the flavor of the syrup. Every tree has its own unique flavor. Cold nights and warm days result in sweet syrup. If it gets too warm, production has to stop because the water gets bitter. The age of the tree impacts the taste and production; younger trees taste better and produce more. The lighter the color of the syrup, the better the quality. These folks are experts in knowing how to produce the finest quality of maple syrup. Syrup is freshly bottled in the sugar house days before the festival so that attendees get the freshest supply possible. Two days before the festival, the town's senior citizens come out to use the highest grade of syrup they have to pour delicious maple candy! It doesn't get any better than this! And... THEY SELL OUT EVERY YEAR!
The first thing to do at the Maple Festival is, of course, to try out the syrup. At the Whitetop Community Center, pancakes are served all day and local crafts are on display. If you're on a sugar high and need something to balance things out, head on over to the fire department for hot dogs and such and maybe some desserts (more sugar!). Local musicians play at the fire department throughout the day which is a special treat in the Old Time Music stomping grounds around Whitetop. If the weather cooperates, you can take a tour beginning at the Elk Garden taps and be shown how this entire process works. Lots of vendors sell everything from clothes to jewelry, crafts, quilts, essential oils, ivory carvings, and even MAPLE TREES! It's not too late to sign up to be a vendor; most all vendors are accepted unless you're peddling food. A 10x10 space rents for $25 per day. This event is put on solely by volunteers, so if you'd like to go up and help out it would be greatly appreciated! Interested vendors or volunteers should call 276-388-2850.
Oh and don't forget, BUY some of the world's best 100% pure maple syrup. You'll be hooked and come back again and again!