The venerable New Salem Mountain Festival will open Saturday on Lookout Mountain for its 43rd year. This weekend-long festival features a juried spread of artists and craftspeople, furniture makers and quilters, jewelry makers and woodworkers. Thousands of tourists flock to New Salem every October to attend a festival that grows each year in size and draw, yet retains its essential quality of place. Local musicians provide the entertainment, and the festival still offers wagon rides for children pulled by Eddie Maravale’s mule.
If you’d like to go, the festival is at the New Salem Community Center on Highway 136 East. Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, and admission is $5, children under 11 free.
Ironically, though, at the same time, another Lookout Mountain arts and crafts festival has given up any crack at becoming venerable: The Friends of Cloudland Canyon State Park’s Mountain Arts & Crafts Celebration, founded in 2013, recently posted a terse announcement on its website that it would not continue past this year because the park would not address its parking needs.
“It’s just not going to work out,” said Harry Abell, vice president of the nonprofit Friends group, contacted on Wednesday for comment.
The Cloudland Canyon festival began in 2013 as a fall festival like New Salem’s, scheduled for the first weekend of November when the Canyon’s spectacular autumn colors would be at their peak. Attendance was good, even from year one—but parking was nightmarish, also from year one.
In 2013, festival guests were directed to park in the field behind the group shelter where the Celebration was centered. Early November in this region is attractive, but can also be wet, and parking lots of cars on wet grass is a surefire recipe for mud.
In subsequent years the Friends experimented with shuttling guests from further away in the park, and in 2016 skipped the festival entirely, deciding to change it to a spring event for 2017 after fall weather betrayed them one time too many. But now Abell says the Friends have decided to make the May 2017 festival their swan song in the arts fair biz, because parking is still a problem and the state park management has still not helped them fix it.
“They just haven’t been able to accommodate us,” he said.
Last year, said Abell, the Friends tackled the problem themselves, making some improvements to the festival parking area at their own expense after a verbal agreement with park management. Park management wasn’t happy with the results, said Abell. Subsequently the Friends presented several other suggestions for improvements, he said, and these, too, have been rejected, spurring the nonprofit group’s decision to end the festival.
(Photo: a Mountain Art & Crafts poster from 2014)
“We put thousands of volunteer hours into it,” said Abell. “It just wasn’t worth it if guests weren’t going to be able to park their cars.”
Friends of Cloudland Canyon State Park is a nonprofit group dedicated to providing services and generating revenue for the state park. The Friends began the recycling program at the park, provide events such as outdoor skills demonstrations and hikes, and run the popular fall hayrides around the park.
Abell said the Mountain Arts Celebration was one of the group’s financial successes for the park. “We made around $45,000 the years we did it,” he said.
But he evinced no hope the festival could be resuscitated in the face of the parking impasse. “I think we’re done,” said Abell.
The Planet requested comment for this article from Cloudland Canyon State Park manager Brad Gibson. He did not return phone calls.