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Future of Pioneer Days

Cailey Moore
Staff Writer

The summer solstice is upon us, and with summer comes outdoor adventure, the warmth of the sun and a season of festivals. Of the approaching festivals, it is the 50th celebration of Pioneer Days that has the town talking – and not necessarily about what this year’s festival will bring. Rather, inquiring minds are curious to see whether or not there will be any future celebrations once this year’s has ended.

Pioneer Days was founded in 1967 by the Pocahontas County Historical Society and flourished under the reign of a generation eager to preserve the area’s history. Pocahontas County was one of the first areas, unofficially, to be settled when America’s first settlers moved out of Virginia, and the festival’s founders thought it was important to celebrate that.

However, as the founding generation grows older, the celebration began to witness a decline. What used to be a festival that lasted up to 10 days has since been reduced to four, and the once-popular Pioneer Day badges have lost their sheen. Budget cuts have forced the Pioneer Days Association [PDA] to make adjustments, and rather than a 10-day celebration, Pioneer Days will begin on a Thursday and end on a Sunday.

“We need help,” PDA President David McLaughlin said. “We need people in the community to volunteer. Some of our current association members have been there for twenty years – myself included – and with some of the older generation already gone and others continually getting older, it’s gotten to the point where it’s time for a new generation to take charge and reorganize.”

According to McLaughlin, members of the community will gladly help out when asked, but very few have been willing to volunteer for the long haul. To keep the age-old traditions alive, assistance is needed in the organizing of the festival itself – as well as each individual events – and the PDA can’t do it alone.

“The folks are getting older,” Marlinton Mayor Sam Felton said. “We’re getting a little bit tired, and we’re in need of help. In the meantime, we have tried – at the car show – to get folks that we thought were very capable to take over, but nobody wants to commit. Nobody wants to commit to the work that needs done, and we had said that, you know, if there’s no one who wants to continue on with the tradition, maybe this should be the end of it.”

The end of Pioneer Days has not been set in stone, but if something doesn’t change, the end might be near. For now, though, this year’s celebration will be similar to last year’s with only a few adjustments. The length of the festival is shorter, but the schedule – which can be found at – is jam-packed with Pioneer Days traditions.

This year, Pioneer Days will kick off its 50th celebration on Thursday, July 6. The annual Pioneer Days Pet Show will commence at 6 p.m. with the Youth Parade beginning at 7:45 p.m. Friday will see the return of the Gate City Gunslingers at 5 and 8:30 p.m. and the Fireman’s parade at 7 p.m. Musical entertainment will be provided by Powell Family Bluegrass at the City National Bank Stage beginning at 8 p.m.

Saturday is a day chockfull of activities, exhibits and traditional Appalachian crafts. The Antique Car Show will take place at the Marlinton Elementary Field, and the Antique Car and Grand Feature Parade kicks off at 1:30 p.m. An evening of laughter and music by local bands will begin at 3:30 p.m. Pioneer Days wraps up Sunday, July 10, with tours and traditional Gospel music at the Old Log Church in Campbelltown.

“Since the rumor has circulated, I think people have taken a different position,” Felton commented. “Hopefully, it may have stirred some interest, and I anticipate some folks will volunteer this summer. I really do, and I hope so – I hope that’s the case. I’d like to see it go on another fifty years. I don’t feel in my heart that this is the end. It may change – everything changes – but I don’t think it’s the end.”

The Pocahontas County Historical Society founded Pioneer Days in 1967 as an effort to preserve the area’s pioneer heritage. The festival flourished in the years following, and 10 years later, in 1977, the non-profit Pioneer Days Association was established to take over the festival’s organization and management. The event receives support from the several local groups and businesses – including the Dramas, Fairs and Festivals Committee and the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Cailey Moore may be contracted at

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