Maggie Valley hosts WinterFest ‘Smoky Style’ Feb. 27-March. 1

Sled dogs, photography seminars and the cast of “Hillbilly Blood,” filmed in Haywood County, will join festival-goers at the inaugural WinterFest Smoky Style in Maggie Valley, Feb. 27 through March 1. Click here for a schedule of the event, and continue reading for more information from WinterFest here:

An inaugural winter event highlighting sled dogs, Plott hounds, canine demonstrations, local reality TV Stars and more to be held at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds

WinterFest Smoky Style will officially kick off a with a “Welcome to Haywood” reception for visitors, including about a dozen amateur sled dog owners from a several-state area and those competing in an officially sanctioned competition from the International Weight Pull Association (IWPA), a nonprofit association that promotes the sport of dog pulling.

Dinner and a brief program will be available both Friday and Saturday evenings at the Maggie Valley Inn, and all events will take place at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds. The perimeter of the area will serve as a track for the sleds, which are equipped with wheels in areas where snow is scant. The weight pull will also be on the grounds.

“The thing about holding this event in February is the uncertainty of the weather,” said Ron DeSimone, Maggie Valley mayor and one of the event organizers. “That’s why we are calling the event WinterFest Smoky Style. We have no idea whether it will be sunny and dry, raining or a snowstorm.” In any event, the weekend activities are ones that can happen rain or shine.

The cast of “Hillbilly Blood,” the reality television show about surviving in the mountains filmed in and around Haywood, will visit with festival-goers and demonstrate survival skills. A number of activities will be geared toward children. The Waynesville Police Department will also bring its K-9 unit to demonstrate the various tasks for which police dogs are used.

There are also a number of Plott hound owners in the region, and many will be at the Saturday event. The Plott hound has deep roots in Haywood County and was officially declared the state dog in 1989. “We plan to have several events that showcase both the Plott hounds and the sled dogs,” said Jim Blyth, who brought up the idea of a winter festival.

One of the major attractions of the day will be an exhibition by the mushers and their sled dogs. Kirk Wall, who also serves on the WinterFest committee, has Siberian huskies and calls himself an amateur musher. “They’re a pretty fun breed,” he said of the dogs known for their ability to travel long distances over wilderness trails during winter conditions. “They’re willful, pranksters — and very talkative.”

The dogs can run as fast as 12 miles per hour and can easily travel 50 miles in a four-hour period, he said. Alaskan huskies, on the other hand, can travel at a speed of 18-20 miles an hour, which makes them the dog of choice for many of the professional mushers who compete in events such as the Iditarod or Yukon Quest.  Despite the far north origins, sled dog events are growing in popularity in the South.

Wall said there is a growing core group of mushers who are in search of places where they can gather and participate in events. The long-range goal of WinterFest Smoky Style is to work up to sponsoring a sanctioned race by year three. “Our first year is just an introduction,” Blyth said. “There isn’t a lot of time to organize a major event this year, but we’ll get a good idea of whether people will support a winter event that celebrates dogs and mountain culture.”

The event organizing committee has good reason to believe the idea will be one that will take off. Blyth recalled a visit from Iditarod competitor Hugh Neff, who brought his dog, Walter, to the county. The pair visited Jonathan Valley Elementary School, where they held a group of several-hundred students from ages 5 to 12 enrapt for nearly an hour. “We were warned the younger students may have to leave because they get fidgety after a time, but that never happened. The kids were full of questions and absolutely fascinated the whole time,” he said.

Another part of the WinterFest Smoky Style celebration will include photography seminars and a guided winter shoot. The Lens Lugger Photographic Association will offer a half-day seminar on Friday, Feb. 27. On Saturday budding or professional photographers will be able to take a guided photo shoot to sites in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Lens Luggers will also be sponsoring a WinterFest Smoky Style photo context.

Participants may submit up to three images in three categories — Landscape, Landscape with People, and Festival Activities. There is a $10 per photo entry fee. Cash and product awards will be provided for the first, second and third places. Proceeds will benefit the Friends of the Haywood County Animal Shelter after expenses. A photo contest DVD will be available of the best and most interesting of the images submitted. Photo seminar details can be found on the festival’s web page: http://winterfestsmokystyle.com/major-events/photography/.

Proceeds go to animal shelter
Proceeds from the WinterFest Smoky Style will go to the “Friends of the Haywood County Animal Shelter”, a new 501-c-3 organization that aims to build a new shelter, for starts.  Admission will be charged on Saturday — $2 for adults and $1 for children. Meals will be available both Friday and Saturday evening at the Maggie Valley Inn for $15 a meal, with $3 of each meal going toward the shelter group. There will be a send-off breakfast on Sunday at the Festival Grounds.

Vendors, volunteers welcome
There will be an opportunity for vendors to set up Saturday during the events. The booths could either be commercial, educational or food related. For a vendor application, visit http://winterfestsmokystyle.com or check out the event Facebook page.

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Along with its picturesque beauty, Haywood County and its five towns of Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, Canton and Clyde offer year round activities and events centered around food, heritage, music, art and the outdoors. No matter what experience you choose, we guarantee you will always experience Authentic Appalachian, Pure & Simple! For more information visit www.visitncsmokies.com or contact the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority at 800-334-9036.

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About Hayley Benton
Current freelance journalist and artist. Former culture/entertainment reporter at the Asheville Citizen-Times and former news reporter at Mountain Xpress. Also a coffee drinker, bad photographer, teller of stupid jokes and maker-upper of words. I can be reached at hayleyebenton@gmail.com. Follow me @HayleyTweeet

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