MACHIAS, Maine — The annual festival that celebrates all things blueberry and Washington County’s heritage as the leading producer of wild blueberries will draw thousands of visitors to the county seat.
The 38th annual Machias Wild Blueberry Festival, to be held Aug. 16-18, draws people from far and wide as much it draws the community together.
The event attracts a large number of people from outside Washington County, noted Nicole Ball, coordinator of this year’s festival. Rooms at area motels and inns are booked a year in advance. “We get people who come back year after year from far away,” said Ball.
The festival is a project of Centre Street Congregational Church, which displays a world map so visitors can place a marker to indicate where they’re from. Visitors last year came as far away as New Zealand. A couple from France won a drawing for a handmade quilt that is given away annually. “It’s pretty exciting to see people from all over the globe,” said Ball.
The event draws an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people.
“To the extent the festival is drawing people outside Washington County,” that they visit the Machias area and spend money locally, “then I think it does have a significant economic impact on the Machias area,” said Kevin Athearn, associate professor of environmental and community economics at the University of Maine at Machias.
“It’s a huge community event,” said Ball, a teacher at Elm Street School in East Machias. “Pretty much everyone is involved in some capacity.”
There is a board of about a dozen people who oversee plans for the festival, plus numerous committees for individual events and activities. Those volunteers probably number upwards of 75 people, Ball said, adding that, “The festival wouldn’t happen without volunteers.” The event is strongly supported by local businesses, she noted, which lend employees, equipment and other assistance.
The festival is also put on in conjunction with the Machias Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, the town of Machias and the Penobscot Valley Craft Association.
“It’s an amazing, wonderful event that people want to support,” said Ball.
About 250 vendors have registered for this year’s festival.
Some people who attend the festival look forward to perusing the vendors in order to do gift shopping for Christmas and birthdays, she said.
One of the highlights of the festival is an original musical that is produced every year and performed at the church. The light-hearted production typically plays before sold-out crowds each evening, Wednesday to Saturday.
New for this year’s festival will be an appearance by Maine humorist Tim Sample, who will perform his stand-up comedy at the church Sunday afternoon. Also, a performance tent for young people has been added next to the church.
The festival gears up at 8 a.m. Friday with a flea market next to the church. The church will host a haddock fry dinner at 4:30 p.m. followed by a children’s parade through town starting at 6 p.m. The University of Maine at Machias is set to host entertainment for children at its performing arts center starting at 7 p.m.
The festivities begin Saturday with a blueberry pancake breakfast at the church at 6:30 a.m. A 1-mile fun run and 5-mile road race get underway at 8 a.m. The festival gets into full swing when vendors and crafters open their booths open at 9 a.m. Live music and other activities begin at 9:30, including a blueberry pie eating contest, cooking contest, and tours of a nearby blueberry farm. In addition to a food court that is available around mid-day, a baked bean supper will be held in the Masonic Hall. The Blackfly Ball, a dress-up dance party, launches at the Machias Valley Grange Hall at 6 p.m.
On Sunday the church hosts another blueberry pancake breakfast at 7 a.m., and crafters and vendors open for business again at 9 a.m. The church will host a community worship service at 10 a.m. There is more live music and food on Sunday, and vendors and crafters close down when Sample begins his performance at 3 p.m.
Parking is available in the Hannaford grocery store parking lot, located just west of downtown Machias on U.S. 1, with shuttle service available Saturday to the festival area downtown. Handicapped parking is available next to the courthouse on Court Street and adjacent to Machias Savings Bank on Main Street; additionally, golf cart service is available from the shuttle stop in front of Whole Live Market on Colonial Way.
For more information, visit www.machiasblueberry.com.