Thousands flock to Washington County for annual Wild Blueberry Festival

Posted Aug. 20, 2011, at 1:34 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — With his face covered in blueberry pie filling and whipped cream dripping from his eyelashes, Drew Dorr’s smile told the whole story Saturday: he was having the time of his life.

Dorr, 9, from Bangor, who participated in the pie-eating contest, was one of thousands of people who headed Downeast this weekend to celebrate the tiny little blue berry that is a major economic engine in Washington County.

There are more than 60,000 acres of managed wild blueberry fields in eastern Maine and they provide a boost of more than $280 million to the state’s economy. The annual Wild Blueberry Festival is held each August at the peak of the berry harvest season.

Dorr may have come in third in his age category (he blamed the low ranking on the mistake of eating a grilled cheese sandwich for breakfast) but he declared his visit to the festival a success. After two minutes spent face down in blueberry pie, Dorr just raised his head and laughed. “It’s just great here,” he said.

Vendors, visitors and organizers said the festival, which has been held for more than 30 years, was one of the best ever.

“The weather couldn’t be better,” co-chairman Ellen Farnsworth said during a break in activities Saturday. She said it was cool for the morning foot races and sunshine brought visitors by the carloads. Parking was at a premium — some side streets were filled for nearly a mile.

“Everything is going beautifully,” Farnsworth said. She said more than 250 people were served at Friday night’s fish fry and more than 500 lined up Saturday morning for the traditional blueberry pancake breakfast. “The musical was sold out every night, including the dress rehearsal,” she said. “This is a wonderfully successful festival.”

Even thick fog that rolled in Friday night didn’t dampen the hundreds of people that turned out for the street dance.

Street performers added a lively note to the festival, which encompassed the entire downtown section and side streets of Machias. Weekend events included a 5K race, a children’s parade, flea markets, the traditional Black Fly Ball at Bad Little Falls, historic tours and tours of blueberry farms, a street dance, and performances by the University of Maine ukulele band and other musical acts.

“This is my first festival,” Holly Bouchard from New York said. “But it sure won’t be my last. We’ve gone to nearly every event of the last three days and I cannot tell you what a wonderful time we are having. And the blueberries … oh my gosh.”

Visitors had their choice of blueberry pie, blueberry shortcake, blueberry soda or even blueberry cotton candy.

More than 250 vendors were on site, selling everything from pet supplies to pottery, fine art to furniture, smoked salmon to cold lemonade, and — of course — lobster rolls. Most vendors said that visitors were spending freely. Local motels were full and restaurants were packed.

Lynn Walkiewicz and Brenda Dalbeck of riverdog design fom West Gardiner were selling handwoven cotton items.

“Oh, they’re buying,” Dalbeck said.

Connie Harter-Bagley of Connie’s Clay of Fundy of East Machias agreed. “They are definitely buying,” she said.

The Wild Blueberry Festival is sponsored by the Centre Street Congregational Church and organizers paid special tribute Saturday morning to the late Norman Nelson, who played a key role at the festival every year, and Frank Cassidy, who often emceed in a tuxedo, and is unwell.

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