Leary to head 77th Forest Festival

With an eye for creating new traditions – including a national event – this year’s director general is looking forward to the 77th Mountain State Forest Festival.

Cricket Leary brings three years of experience as an assistant director with the festival, and she served as deputy director last year. Her appointment to director general was announced this week by the festival’s board of directors, and Board President Cliff Marstiller said he couldn’t be more pleased.

“I’m looking forward to working with Cricket and all the assistant directors. I’m excited about her being the director this year. … It’s absolutely a good group of folks,” Marstiller said.

Leary began the role of director general Jan. 1, and she has begun working with her team of assistant directors to organize and develop the events of this year’s festival.

The Mountain State Forest Festival is the largest and oldest festival in the state of West Virginia, and it’s often a great time for visitors to see what the area has to offer. It also serves as a homecoming for many folks who used to live in Randolph County.

Because it offers everything from carnival rides, arts and crafts, parades and delicious food, to concerts, competitions and a host of special events.

Leary said residents and visitors of all ages can enjoy what the Forest Festival has to offer.

“There are so many events throughout the year that you can catch at least one,” she said, noting many attractions are low-cost or free.

Leary has chosen “Old Traditions with New Beginnings” as the theme for the 77th Forest Festival – saying, “We’re going to take (some) old traditions and change things a little bit.”

One such change could draw fans from across the country as part of a new attraction – the Forest Festival lawn mower races. This two-day event is set to take place Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 at Camp Pioneer in Beverly.

The event, sanctioned by the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association, will be part of its national circuit. These races attract riders and fans from all over the United States.

There will be 11 different classes for fans to enjoy on each day of racing, and Leary said it should be a lot of fun.

“We needed something new. We needed something different,” she said, explaining the races will take place outside of normal workday hours. This hopefully will allow more people to check it out.

Other changes to this year’s festival may include different activities after the Children’s Parade, more music shows downtown and updates to the street entertainment, Leary added.

“We’re looking at some new acts for that this year,” she said.

Of course, a great deal of the Forest Festival’s charm comes from the beloved traditions that don’t change from year to year, such as the coronation of Queen Silvia, other royal events and the Grand Feature Parade.

Leary said participating in the festival is important to her for a number of reasons, such as promoting the community, teaching her children about giving back and making sure many traditions do continue.

She noted the festival is a huge tourist attraction during the fall – when West Virginia’s autumn colors pop and the weather can be gorgeous.

“It’s the peak season to bring people in from this state and from other states,” she said. “There’s a richness that comes with it.”

Marstiller agreed the festival showcases some of the best things this area has to offer.

“The festival in some respects is a lot like Christmas – it’s for the kids,” he said. “And it kind of brings out the kid in everyone.”

Marstiller and Leary both said they will enjoy working with the royal court – everyone from the queen and new princesses to the younger children, who become the flower girls, train bearers, jesters and more.

“I always look forward to meeting the new queen and her family, and being able to spend time with the minor court,” Marstiller said.

He said Leary and all the assistant directors and volunteers will do a tremendous job every step of the way in making sure this year’s festival has something for everyone.

“I think we’ve got a great group of people, and we’re going to have a great festival,” he said.

Leary said she appreciates all the support from the assistant directors, their family and friends as well as volunteers.

“We have some old ones, some new ones – without them I can’t do it,” she said. “I’d also like to recognize my employer, Davis Memorial Hospital, for affording me the opportunity to serve in this capacity.”

Leary works as a reimbursement analyst at DMH. She and her husband, Don, are the parents of two children, Brian and Sydney.

Sydney was a flower girl for the 71st Mountain State Forest Festival in 2007.

Leary attends St. Brendan Catholic Church and is a member of the Elkins Chapter of the American Academy of Professional Coders. She is also an independent senior consultant for Thirty-One.

The 77th Mountain State Forest Festival will be celebrated Sept. 29 to Oct. 6. More information is available online at www.forestfestival.com or at 304-636-1824. Additional information about the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association is available at www.letsmow.com.