From May 19 to 21, Damascus will stage what has become probably the largest single gathering of hikers anywhere: an annual festival called Trail Days. Last year, despite a steady rain, an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 people showed up for the celebration in a town with an official population of 1,094.
That’s where I wanna be, sharing a tiny mountain town with 25,000 people.
It starts with a townwide yard sale. After that, there’s the Trail Day Pageant. Then comes a tarp-raising contest; Appalachian Trail Jeopardy; presentations from the Whittling Club; a homemade gear contest, followed by a useless gear contest. Bands play. Gear manufacturers set up shop. Tents of all shapes, colors and sizes are erected a foot apart in a makeshift campground of 2,000 campers. The weekend culminates with the hiker parade, often consisting of more than a thousand participants marching through the center of town as onlookers soak them with squirt guns.
Well, that’s one way to get a shower. Lord knows they need one.
This year there will be 150 vendors, 5 musical performances and more than 40 events. The number of visitors camped out in downtown Damascus along the river got so big a few years back that town officials had to tighten the reins and move the bulk of campers a half mile from the center of town.
“Locals couldn’t get to the post office,” said the Trail Days organizer, Bob Hayes, who has lived in Damascus for 32 years. “Any place they could put a tent they put a tent. Every year, it’s grown and grown and grown. We’re almost full.”
Just what they need: publicity in a publication with over a million subscribers.