ELKINS — After being canceled the past two years due to COVID-19, the Mountain State Forest Festival will make its long-awaited return when the 84th MSFF gets underway on Saturday.
“We are very excited to get the Forest Festival back up and running,” MSFF Director General Robbie Morris told The Inter-Mountain Tuesday. “The excitement is building and we’ve had more calls, emails and Facebook messages from people asking about events than I think we ever have. Everything is looking really good and shaping up to be quite a great festival.”
Saturday’s opening day is filled with events, beginning with the MSFF Bass Fishing Classic at 6 a.m., and the Highland Dance Competition morning session at 9 a.m. on the campus of Davis & Elkins College at the Citizens Bank of WV Amphitheatre.
“The bass fishing tourney was originally scheduled for Sept. 17, but there was a little bit of an issue with the permit,” Morris said. “So we moved it to Saturday. There are still spots for people to still sign up for it if they are interested.”
The official opening ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Jennings Randolph Federal Building, which has undergone construction for some time due to the federal plaza renovation project.
“The GSA (General Services Administration) has been fantastic to work with. They have done a great job of refreshing the federal building plaza,” Morris said. “For what we need the plaza for, they are completely finished with the the exception of sandblasting some walls. Every area that we are going to use for opening and closing ceremonies is ready.
“The festival stones have been relocated around the flag pole, so they are in a more prominent spot. It really looks nice and the new area will provide us a number of more years for stones to be added.”
In July 2021, the U.S. General Services Administration, also known as GSA, contacted Forest Festival officials and asked them to remove the MSFF commemorative markers from the plaza of the Jennings Randolph Federal Center. GSA manages federal properties around the country.
At first the GSA said the stone markers would be permanently removed. Within weeks, however, the GSA said it would work with the MSFF to find a new home for the markers.
Morris said there are many positives to the stones’ new location, including that they will be more visible to visitors to the Federal Building.
“We are very happy with the new placement and GSA was very gracious to allow us to relocate them,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t even know the stones were down there unless you had something to do with the festival or just happened to come upon them. They were kind of tucked away in the corner, but now they are right around the flag pole in a very good spot.”The Strongest Team in the Forest Competition will begin at noon Saturday at Elkins High School, while a host of events get underway at 1 p.m., including the afternoon session of the Highland Dancers, the Mountain State Street Machines Cruise-In on South Davis Avenue, and the Irish Road Bowling competition on the Georgetown Road.
The Forest Festival Cornhole Tournament will begin at 2 p.m. at Elkins Town Square, and all of the festivities of Opening Day will conclude with a massive Kickoff Party from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Davis Avenue between Third and Fourth Streets.
“The Kickoff Party is going to be a really good event,” Morris said. “We have Timmy White and J.B. Stalnaker opening up the show with music and they both are always fantastic. We then have Bon Journey out of Pittsburgh playing. They are a Bon Jovi and Journey cover band who are fantastic — they really put on a great show.”
Morris said, along with the musical entertainment, a wide variety of food and beverages will be available during the event. The party will then conclude with a fireworks display at approximately 8 p.m.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere downtown on Saturday,” Morris said. “As long as the weather is OK we are going to have the fireworks as a welcome back to Festival City. Hopefully the rain holds off, but if it doesn’t we will move the party to the Phil Gainer Community Center.”
The opening Saturday of the Forest Festival has continued to grow over the years into what it is today — a fully scheduled day of events.
“Some of the events that we have added over the last several years have gotten really big, like the Irish Road Bowling, the Cornhole Tournament and the Highland Dance Competition, where we have nearly 60 dancers set to perform,” Morris said.
“The opening weekend has become larger because we can’t fit anything else into Friday and Saturday of closing weekend, where we have the Grand Feature Parade, Coronation and the Fireman’s Parade among a bunch of other events.”
A new location has been found for the MSFF carnival and its Gambil Amusement rides, which had previously been housed in the parking lot behind Elkins City Hall. As that parking lot has now been paved, a new spot needed to be found.
“The rides that were on the City Hall parking lot are now going to be diagonal from that location on the gravel lot behind the Railyard Restaurant, on the corner of Fourth Street and Railroad Avenue,” Morris said. “Thanks to Harold and Julia Elbon, and John Smith of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad for allowing the carnival rides to be set up there. Without their support it would have been a very difficult setup for the carnival. We greatly appreciate them allowing us to use that lot.”
The MSFF Country Music Show will be held at the Citizens Bank of WV Amphitheatre on Saturday. In the case of inclement weather, the County Music Show will be moved to the Phil Gainer Community Center. Morris said the MSFF is currently finalizing alternate locations for all the shows in case of rain. He said that information will be posted on the festival’s website or Facebook page.
Morris pointed out that all the concerts scheduled from Sunday through Thursday in downtown Elkins will be at the Rotary Amphitheater Stage behind the Elkins Railroad Depot. That includes Wednesday night’s Billy Joel and Elton John tribute performances.
Morris is looking forward to performances from the Indianapolis Motorcycle Drill and the Ax Women Loggers of Maine. Both have performed at past Forest Festivals.
“The Motorcycle Drill team is going to have two performances and also go through both the Grand Feature Parade and the Fireman’s Parade,” Morris said. “Everyone needs to check those guys out because they put on a great show that’s really amazing. The Ax Women will be in the City Park again this year, and they put on a fantastic show — throwing axes, rolling logs and running chain saws.
“Overall we have a lot going on and I think there are a lot of reasons to celebrate finally getting back to normal, post-COVID. I hope people enjoy themselves and have a great time.”