75th Rhododendrom Festival begins today, continues Sunday
Published 12:37 pm Thursday, June 16, 2022
June 1947 saw the first of the Rhododendron Festivals, conceived and carried out by the Roan Mountain Citizens Club as a two-day celebration to memorialize and perpetuate the most gorgeous display of natural beauty on the North American continent.
The festival has continued uninterrupted for over 60 years.
The festival is held annually in June. Originally the festival was held at the top of Roan Mountain and featured the Miss Rhododendron Pageant as well as a keynote speaker. The winner of the pageant would ultimately go on to the Miss Tennessee Pageant.
Governors, U.S. Senators, congressmen and even Vice President Richard Nixon have been guests at the festival. Additionally, country music stars have visited the festival.
In recent years the festival has been held in Roan Mountain State Park, located at the foot of Roan Mountain, and features handmade crafts, food, and a variety of traditional music, plus an array of old-time folkway demonstrations. The two-day festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This year’s festival — number 75 — will be held today and Sunday — and if you miss the Rhododendron Festival, a Fall-o-Dendron Festival is planned October 8, there just won’t be any rhododendron for that festival.
The festival this weekend will feature parking by donation to local civic groups, admission, demonstrations, and entertainment all day both days. Over 100 arts and crafts vendors will be featured along with several food vendors.
The Roan Mountain Citizens Club will also be selling ice-cold canned drinks and bottled water along with t-shirts, auto tags, and cookbooks. All proceeds go to Roan Mountain community projects at schools, fire departments, etc.
Among the entertainment at this year’s festival is Fiddling Leona, who will perform this evening (Saturday) from 9 to 10 p.m.
The rhododendron bloom is at its peak in most locations on the mountains, however, there will be bloom for the next two or three weeks from late bloomers, said an official at the Roan Mountain State Park. “But, right now it is a beautiful sight,” said the park ranger.
The Rhododendron Gardens which straddle the Tennessee-North Carolina state line is surrounded by forests of evergreen balsam, and crowned overhead by the bluest of blue skies on a clear day. Towering above the Appalachian valleys, the gardens are often actually above the clouds, giving rise to the name “Cloudland.”
Dr. Elisha Mitchell, for whom Mt. Mitchell is named, described the Roan Mountain in one sentence: “It is the most beautiful of the high mountains…with Carolina at its feet on one side and Tennessee on the other, and a green ocean of mountains rising in tremendous billows around her.”
Jennifer Bauer Wilson in “Roan Mountain, A Passage of Time” wrote: “The Rhododendron Gardens are located in a Canadian temperate zone. Each year, thousands of people flock to the mountain at the peak bloom period during late June. In a good year a single bush might boast over 100 clusters of flowers while hundreds of bushes spread out over the mountain. Catawba Rhododendron bushes are so plump and round that they appear to have been pruned by the hand of man to achieve their perfect shape, yet the only sculpture work on Roan Mountain is that of Mother Nature. At first, visitors are captivated by the broad panorama of crimson, but if they look closely enough they may find the individual blossom of rhododendron has its own unique beauty. Each petal is sprinkled with an intricate pattern of tiny spots along its lip that acts as a kind of runway for bees looking for a flower to pollinate.”
Benjamin Dugger, an Elizabethton resident, penned this poem in recognition of the rhododendron.
These rhododendron gardens,
through which our feet have trod,
are nature’s purple altars
where earth communes with God.
On breeze-swept, grassy highlands,
as vivid blossoms nod,
we view such trancing beauty,
a gift to all from God.
This pristine splash of colors
on canvas made of sod
is our Edenic painting,
perfection brushed by God.