Festival signals start of leaf-peeping season

By Ryan Cornell

As blushes of bright red, orange and yellow begin to appear on area trees, it’s a reminder that Front Royal’s largest and oldest outdoor festival isn’t far off.

The 44th annual Festival of Leaves, hosted by the Warren Heritage Society, is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 11 in the town’s historic downtown district.

Although numbers vary depending on weather, festival attendance typically hovers around 26,000, according to Patrick Farris, executive director of the heritage society.

The festival began in 1971 as a way to usher in the leaf-peeping season, a perennial source of tourism revenue for the town, and for residents, businesses and nonprofits to partake in a “true community event.”

Farris linked the festival’s immense turnout to its lifespan.

“It began so long ago, over four decades, that there are people who have taken part in the festival since they were children,” he said. “It’s almost like a family tradition.”

Next Saturday morning kicks off at 8 a.m. with a 5K race and fun walk beginning and ending at Skyline High School.

The festival then hosts its annual parade down Stonewall Drive, Royal Avenue and 2nd Street starting at 10 a.m.

As the parade ends, visitors can browse the vendors, merchants and crafters lining Chester and Main streets.

A space designated for children’s activities will be located on the Chester Street side of the E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School teacher’s parking area.

A “food court” of vendors will set up booths in the parking lot by the Main Street gazebo.

Throughout the day, a variety of bands and musicians will perform from the gazebo.

“As long as people are listening,” Farris said, “there will be a band playing.”

Living history interpretations and apple butter making demonstrations will be held on the society’s museum complex at 101 Chester St.

Farris said the festival will offer visitors a chance to tour the historic buildings, including the Ivy Lodge Museum, Belle Boyd Cottage and the Balthis House, which was built in 1788.

“Even if people have been in the Balthis House a year ago, they wouldn’t recognize it now from all the changes,” he said. “That’s how much restoration has been done to it.”

The Ivy Lodge Museum will feature new exhibits this year as well, he said.

In addition, the Warren Rifles Confederate Memorial Museum will be open for visitors during the festival.

Admission into the festival and museums is free for the day.

The Festival of Leaves is an annual fundraiser for the Warren Heritage Society, a nonprofit preserving and educating the public about the history of Front Royal and Warren County.

Many festival visitors travel from out of town, or even out of the state, to view the Shenandoah National Park’s changing leaves and end up staying for the daylong event.

Farris said some trees have already started changing color, but they haven’t yet reached their peak.

“When you’re doing an outdoor festival, timing is critical and you want to have a pretty environment,” he said. “I think this year is gonna be spectacular.”

For more information, visit http://www.bit.ly/10lKdQI or call 540-636-1446.

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