Every 4th Saturday in April, thousands of people from across the southeast crowd the streets of downtown Sylva for a fun-filled day of music, food, arts and crafts and more.
Since 1997, Sylva, North Carolina, has been home to the Greening Up The Mountains festival.
This year, the 20th Anniversary of GUTM hosted the most vendors in its history at nearly 230. Last year’s festival broke records with just under 200 vendors and more than 10,000 attendees. This year’s festival had more than 12,000 visitors. The businesses and organizations participating in Jackson County’s largest festival represent the historic mountain culture by sharing their talents, handmade products and food.
The festival started around Earth Day in 1997 and was named “Greening Up The Mountains” by Joyce Moore, co founder of the festival. She chose the name because of how the mountains looked going from winter to spring and into the summer. According to the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, the Greening Up the Mountains festival “continues to keep its focus on environmental protection, sustainability, and promotion of local businesses and civic groups.” Joyce reached out to a couple of people, including current event coordinator and co-founder Amy Garza, with the idea of an annual festival that would bring people to downtown Sylva to support local businesses and celebrate the WNC mountains. Almost every entity in Sylva is
involved, according to Garza.
One of the reasons Garza felt drawn to the idea of a festival was for the local children.
“We want to encourage self worth in the local children. We want to make them aware and proud of who they are in this environment and this location. Often there are negative stereotypes of our local people. We wanted to raise our sense of place in children, by seeing our neighbors playing guitar and doing really cool things for others,” Garza said.
Some of the events that started in 1997 still continue today.The tradition of the heritage walk began the first year, where locals dressed in period clothing from years past, as well as the annual 5k race and mountain heritage youth talent show. There was a parade that included children dressed as leaves and flowers. This is one of Amy Garza’s favorite memories of the festival, along with many others.
“We had someone dress up as a tree in the parade and all of the children dressed as leaves followed the tree down main street. There was a poetry contest between schools and the winners got to be the king and queen, wearing a crown and robe and riding in a convertible.
People would make and sell quilts and other products our ancestors made in order to live in the mountains,” Garza explained.
Chief Woodard of the Sylva Police Department has attended the Greening Up the Mountain festival since its first year. There is one year and encounter that has stuck with him.
“We had the 5k that started at Mark Watson [park] and went to Dillsboro Road and back. On that route, there’s a pasture that had a mule in it. Well, six years ago, the mule got out and started running up the road towards town. There were two or three officers that tried to approach him, but the mule didn’t want anything to do with it. When a female came down and tried approaching it, the mule calmed down and she grabbed it. We called the old man who owns the mule and he came down, put a lead on him and led him back to the pasture,” Chief Woodard explained in a phone interview.
As far as preparation for the event, the Sylva PD has held meetings throughout the year in reference to this event and had a briefing prior to the festival to make sure everyone is on the same page.
“The festival has always run really smoothly. Of course, you still have to be alert and vigilant in case something does happen, and we will be,” said Chief Woodard.
The first year of the festival, it took anywhere from eight to 11 officers to work the event. Even though numbers have grown, there are only about five officers who work the festival now. Chief Woodard says that the type of crowd that attends is generally not looking to cause any trouble, but coming to listen to the music and let the kids play. Though Chief Woodard is retiring this September, he plans on attending future festivals.
Click on the photo story below for more about this year’s festival!