2019 Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival takes center stage this weekend

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, June 19, 2019



It is the month of June, and that can only mean it is time for Roan Mountain’s annual adoration of the rhododendron.

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Roan Mountain’s annual Rhododendron Festival has been a highlight of summer since 1947 when the first festival was held.

The festival has changed through the years, but the world’s most extensive rhododendron gardens have changed little in their splendor and beauty.

The festival began in 1947 to celebrate the gardens and to bring tourists to the area. A new road had been built to help the crowds get to the top of the mountain, and the festival became an annual event for both Tennessee and North Carolina.

Formerly the festival was held on top of the Roan and it was jointly celebrated by both Roan Mountain and Roan Valley, N.C.

The festival has always been on the third weekend of June when the rhododendrons are at their peak of beauty and usually in full bloom.

As the festival grew, so did the crowds and the dignitaries.

Vice-President Richard Nixon attended one year and usually the governors of both Tennessee and North Carolina attended during those early years.

State and Federal Congressmen and Senators also attended and one year the famous hero of WWI, Alvin C. York, was the keynote speaker.

Some of the locals even claim that Elvis came through the area one year. It is said he stayed at the hotel in the Roan Mountain Village and stopped at one of the local grocery stores.

During these early years when the festival was held on top of the Roan, the highlight was the crowning of Miss Rhododendron and Little Miss Rhododendron in the annual pageant.

After the Roan Mountain State Park was built, the festival was moved to the park.

The Miss Rhododendron pageant was still held but it was moved to Cloudland High School. The pageant was usually a preliminary to the Miss Tennessee pageant, and contestants from all around the region entered it.

The pageant would end in the 1990s because of a lack of interest and controversy.

The last Little Miss Rhododendron was Amber Dawn Morgan and the last Miss Rhododendron was Kristi Heaton, both from the Roan Mountain area. They were crowned in 1992.

In the beginning, the festival was a three-day affair and usually lasted from Friday through Sunday.

Later, it was shortened to two days and is held on Saturday and Sunday. A craft fair was added, along with music and a variety of events for everyone.

This year’s festival will be held in Roan Mountain State Park and will be on Saturday and Sunday, June 22 and 23. The hours will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

This year’s schedule of events includes a craft show with over 100 vendors on Saturday, June 22.

Vendors will be set up demonstrating and selling their crafts. There will also be a variety of food, traditional music, and old-time folk demonstrations.

Of course, the highlight of the festival will be the rhododendron that grows at the top of the 6000-foot Roan Mountain. Be sure to bring a camera and be prepared for memories.

Parking will accept donations and these donations will benefit local civic groups.

The festival is sponsored and organized by the Roan Mountain Citizens Club and they will have Roan Mountain cookbooks, auto tags, and T-shirts available for purchase at their tent under the big oak tree.

All proceeds to the Citizens Club will go to help community projects such as schools, fire department, etc.

A mini-auction for scholarships for Cloudland High School graduates will be conducted between music performances.

Festival vendors and local businesses have donated items.

Carter Countians can be proud to say the world’s largest rhododendron gardens are right here in Carter County. Get out and join the fun and appreciate all that nature has given.