What’s better than crisp autumn air, warm sweaters and a cup of pumpkin coffee? Uh, not much. Unless you pile on the excitement of a huge fall festival.
That’s right. This past weekend, I got to get away from school and head out to the mountains of my home state, Maryland, where I enjoyed all of those things and then some. October 8 – 12 marked the 47th annual Autumn Glory festival in Oakland, Maryland. This festival is listed as the no. 1 fall festival in the world by MSN.com. And I quickly learned why.
Fall is a beautiful time of year characterized by falling leaves, warm colors and outdoor traditions. Autumn Glory brought out the best of those traditions, epitomizing every essence of fall. The festival took over the entire town, where streets were blocked off for the parade, shops and street lamps were decorated with straw and pumpkins, and everyone and their mother came out to enjoy warm food and cider from countless vendors.
My travel-partner-in-crime Sarah and I rose before the sun did Saturday morning, the day of the parade, and started the day off right with a big breakfast at a local diner. Then, around 9 a.m., we drove down to Oakland’s Main Street, where the real excitement was taking place. We started off with a stroll through a farmers market, where you couldn’t count on your fingers and toes the number of people selling freshly-harvested autumn veggies — squash, apples, pumpkins, you name it — and mounds of sweet cakes, cookies and pumpkin bread. I was still full from breakfast, but I couldn’t pass up buying a few goodies to save for later.
Next, Sarah and I headed to the historic Oakland B&O Museum for an open house where we got to enjoy glimpses of model trains and train tables, and watch a video explain all of the important historical figures, like Abe Lincoln, who passed through the train station.
After a short time in the museum, we moseyed on over to an antique shop where we met up with my parents. They, too, had come out to Western Maryland for the Autumn Glory festival. Together, the four of us passed the time until the parade started by strolling up and down the streets of town, exploring the Autumn Glory activities. We got warm, fresh kettle corn from a vendor and followed with some barbecue and Italian sausages from the local fire department. We then made our way through the residential area, where locals had lined the sidewalks with chairs so everyone could get a good look at the parade.
As the parade’s start time drew closer, Sarah, my parents and I found a spot to situate ourselves in to watch the floats go by. After a few minutes of anticipation, we we finally watched the Southern Garrett High School band march through, marking the beginning of the 2-hour long parade.
In that two hours, we saw every kind of small-town organization represented in one way or another. Several local charities marched through, along with local dance troupes, middle schools and high schools. One of my favorite acts was an organization of veterans who dress as clowns visit sick children in hospitals to cheer them up. They all hopped on tiny vehicles and rode in the parade, some even making comedic laps around the other floats. There was also an Autumn Glory king and queen (both high school students) along with a court or a princess for every category, including Miss Maryland, Miss Appalachia, and the Queen of Canoe and Kayak Slaloming.
Then of course, there were the huge, old tractors that local farmers had taken from their fields to come drive in the parade. Oh, how precious. Watching the locals cheer on their friends and affiliate groups created such a sense of comradery. Everyone was so warm and welcoming, and genuinely happy to be celebrating such a huge and important tradition. The vibe from the town was so different from the fast-paced, career-obsessed Washington, D.C. I am used to. It was refreshing, a great reminder of how family and tradition are just as important to some people as careers and money-making are to others.
After the final marching band walked through, signifying the end of the parade, Sarah, my mom and I headed to small wine shop for an Autumn Glory wine-tasting. The wine was fabulous, but we didn’t get to enjoy a huge variety because we didn’t stay too long. My dad soon picked my mom and me up in our Jeep, and we said goodbye to Sarah and headed back to our small cabin in the area for a family dinner. The perfect ending to a perfect day.
Before the weekend was over, Sarah and I also managed to make a short trip to Swallow Falls State Park, a beautiful park encompassing a long stream and waterfall (I’m also a little biased to the park’s beauty because my dad runs Swallow Falls, along with all of the state parks in Western Maryland!). Unfortunately, we chose to go on a day when the rain was generous, but we got in a decent walk to the falls without getting too wet. I have been to the falls many times before, yet somehow they never fail to impress me. The beautiful water along with the colorful red and yellow leaves made for ideal scenery and great photo opps.
Overall the weekend was a perfect escape. Autumn Glory was such a charming festival and got me sooooooooooo in the mood for fall. Escaping to the mountains in general was a great distraction from the busyness at school in my final year of college. And, of course, seeing my parents and spending time with my friend Sarah always puts a smile on my face; one that I hope will never fade. I don’t know if I’ll go back to the festival next year — heck, I don’t even know if I’ll still be in this country next year — but going forward, I’ll have nothing but fond memories of this warm, wonderful weekend.