Event is more than just a festival

Sunday marked the closing of yet another action-packed, fun-filled, berry-sweet, West Virginia Strawberry Festival week. For the citizens of Upshur County, the middle of May has always been, and will always be, our most special time of year. In the weeks leading up to the event, we rush to perfectly manicure our yards, spending small fortunes at local greenhouses, planting, mulching, mowing and, of course, staking those wooden strawberries in every garden, all orchestrating a metaphorical red carpet aimed at welcoming thousands of visitors to experience the “berry best” this community has to offer.

For me, each year at this time, my memories of childhood wonder that surrounded the festival come rushing back like a flood in my mind. Although I’m nearly 29 years old now, and a good 15 years have passed since I last took a ride on the Spring Street Ferris wheel, or caught a gold fish in Traders Alley, none of that changes the raw emotions, the love, and the excitement I feel. In mid-May, it’s like someone flipped a switch and I go back and I know I’m not alone.

This Saturday, I was fortunate to capture quite possibly the most popular photo in the history of Buckhannon, West Virginia. As of Monday evening, it had been shared on Facebook 850 times, reaching thousands of people – some even across the globe. I am always critical of my work as photographer, but even I’ll admit it this time; yes, it’s a great photo and I couldn’t be happier with it. But it’s not the mechanics that make it a desirable image, it’s what it represents that makes it so special.

This photo captures the essence of this place, the quality of life, the hometown pride, the joy, the beauty, the laughter, the excitement, the connections, the culture… everything we are and everything that makes us one of America’s Best Small Towns is in this picture.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t dedicate part of this letter to express sincere gratitude to everyone who had a hand in making the 77th West Virginia Strawberry Festival a great success. To all of the board members and volunteers who collectively sink thousands of hours into the planning and preparation each year: Thank you! To our City Street and Waste professionals who do phenomenal job cleaning up Downtown after every event: Thank you! To the business community who provide financial support each year: Thank you! We couldn’t do it without you!

Robbie Skinner

Buckhannon City