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Not Just Another Syrupy Column

The Highland County Maple Festival is just around the corner

March 2023

by Margo Oxendine, Contributing Columnist

Winter is supposedly almost over. But then again, there’s the Highland County Maple Festival. It’s sort of a sure bet around here that on one of the two weekends of Maple Festival, there will be snow.

But that’s not much of a problem; the Maple Festival goes on for two weekends. One of those is bound to be filled with sunshine. Even snow does not stop the visitors from streaming in for that sweet syrup, those delectable donuts, the pancakes and the crafts.

The dates for the Highland County Maple Festival this year are March 11-12, and March 18-19.

Where is it? Almost anywhere in Highland County — from Hightown to McDowell to Monterey. Much of the action takes place inside the “new” school, which serves all grades; and, also at the old school, where you’ll find the Highland Center, on Spruce Street. Just follow the crowds, wherever you land. You’ll find wonderful stuff everywhere.

Those donuts I mentioned? Well, know now that one is nowhere near enough. A fresh, maple syrup donut, still warm, is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. I remember one Maple Fest when my mother and I waited in a long, snaking line for at least 45 minutes. Folks were purchasing boxes of dozens of donuts, sometimes balanced in a veritable tower as they walked by us to get out the door. When we finally got to the ordering counter, we said, “We’ll have four donuts, please.” “Just four?” the people around us exclaimed. “You waited all this time for just four donuts? That’s kind of sad.” No, it wasn’t sad at all. We got back to the car and sat there, devouring our still-warm, delicious donuts. Didn’t feel a bit of guilt about it, either.

I have a suggestion for a place you might want to take a little trek to during the festival: Southernmost Maple, a farm found by taking the little road across from the Bolar Ruritan Club. (By the way, the Ruritan Club is noted for its hot-off-the-griddle pancakes and sausage. Another long line, but also well worth the wait.)

Southernmost Maple, up scenic Bolar Road, is run by the family and friends of owners Mike and Diane Puffenbarger and is a destination in and of itself. There is an authentic old-time country store wherein you’ll find Amish butter, syrup in all sizes of containers, buckwheat flour, jams, and lots of home-baked goods that might include the best maple-oatmeal-pecan cookies you’ve ever eaten.

Inside, you’ll find a real restroom (difficult to find during any festival, anywhere.) But more importantly, lots of live, good ole country music and bluegrass, with Mike Puffenbarger on the stand-up bass. Oh yeah: And pancakes; buttermilk or buckwheat. And of course, plenty of that tasty syrup.

Outside at Southernmost, you’ll find a food trailer, selling homemade barbecue and delectable brisket and the usual hot dogs along with other fare. They’ll be frying up donuts in the trailer, too, so this is your chance to forget the long lines in Monterey, and get what you’re craving, fast.

There are more crafters than you can count sprinkled throughout the festival venues. But this year, the Highland Center is featuring a slew of them, including a local artisans’ showcase, and plenty of handmade items. There are many excellent artisans in Highland County, and if you want them all in one place, then this should be another of your destinations.

If you want more info about the Highland Maple Festival, call 540-468- 2550, the Chamber of Commerce office. Or, just hop in the car and take off toward Virginia’s “Little Switzerland,” for a sweet, tasty, happy weekend.

To order Margo’s book, “A Party of One,” call 540-468-2147 Mon-Wed., 9-5, or email [email protected].