History of a Festival

A parade led by grand marshal winners, Helen and Charley (the barber) Herman, kicked off the first annual Round Valley Blackberry Festival. It was August 13, 1983. Mid afternoon, billowing, dark clouds filled the sky, followed quickly by a downpour that soaked the visitors and activities. Soon, however, the rain passed. It was not the rain, but the hard work of many volunteers and the sweet flavor of scrumptious blackberries that carried the day.

In addition to the booths that displayed local arts and crafts, there were musicians, great food, scarecrow decorating, square dancing, blackberry pie-eating contest, pancake breakfast, Lions Club BBQ, library footrace, and many other events. In short, there was something for everyone, from toddlers to oldsters. Many of the original events are still taking place, with creative new additions over the years.

The Blackberry Festival, a committee under the nonprofit umbrella of the Round Valley Chamber of Commerce, was created by a group of community members, with a $1,600 grant from the Mendocino County Chamber of Commerce. Money was raised also at an ice cream social and other fundraising events, with many businesses and individuals donating materials.

During the early eighties there were discussions of creating a town center with a farmer’s market, a gallery, and other activities to draw people to a common area. Perhaps sparked by that vision, Shirley Martion came up with the first notion of an annual blackberry festival and formed the original Blackberry Festival committee with Shirley, with Barbara Wyre, Rose Baschal, Susan Wilson, and Joyce Weisman. Robert Cunnan created the original design of the bandstand. Many capable volunteers participated in constructing the bandstand and the arbor where the booths would be placed. Needing little maintenance, the original structures are still standing, attesting to the outstanding workmanship of our local craftsmen and women.

They had boundless energy and ideas, those founding fathers and mothers of the festival; many were followers of Alan Chadwick, who created the Round Valley Garden Project in the 1970s. In the early years, to publicize the upcoming festival, some of the women covered themselves in purple balloons and walked in parades in both Willits and Round Valley. The downpour on the first day of the festival, watching the spectators and the wares getting soaked, the fearless leaders did not despair, but instead engaged in the first and only wet T-shirt contest.

The original goals of the Blackberry Festival were to 1) boost Round Valley’s economy by promoting tourism, 2) provide an outlet for local citizens to sell their handiwork, and 3) to unite the citizens in a common cause. Those three goals continue to guide the festival.

For nearly twenty-five years, the Blackberry Jammers have opened the festival on Saturday with their original score “Blackberry Jam.” Early Sunday morning finds runners, walkers, and race officials in the center of town for the footrace that benefits our local Round Valley Public Library. Later on you can peruse an impressive display of antique and custom cars and trucks. For almost as long, we all have slurped blackberry slushes while enjoying the talented musicians and artists performing in the bandstand. It is a special pleasure to stroll among the booths, finding delicious food, beautiful pottery, unique clothing, and other art and crafts, all the while bumping into friends we have not seen for a long time.

The Blackberry Festival remains a nonprofit event and continues to raise funds each year through generous donations from local businesses and individuals. The gracious hospitality of past and present owners of the site of the festival (Richard and Susan Wilson, who owned the property until 1995, and John Marshall and Russ Segure, who are the current owners) is more than generous. John and Russ invite us all into their park-like back yard and continue to improve the grounds, where there are now many beautiful trees and shrubs that lend shade and beauty. Most important, the wisteria has grown to cover the entire arbor, providing welcome shade for the booths.

Some of the many original dreamers and doers—Shirley and Bob Martion, Rosemary and Carl Baschal, Joyca and Robert Cunnan, John Cunnan, Barbara and Robbie Wyre, Estok Menton, Luke Hinman, Jim and Carolyn Robertson, Richard and Susan Wilson, Frank and Joyce Weisman, Mike Gauder, Peter Bye, Frank Ludwig, Annabele Herbert, John Fliessbach, Stephen and Gloria Decater, James Ast, Tom Lawrence, Alan Mohr, Bruce Alexander, Irene and Harvey Boynton, Ed and Joan Phillips, Jim Lambert, Lew Chichester, Peter Richardson, Tom Palley, Paul and Mary Brower, Michael and Sharon Mills, Chuck and Glenda McFadin, Rob Ruiz, Diana Fairbanks, the Town Band, and many, many others who lent a hand and believed.
A big cheer and thank you goes out to all these people, to anyone who may have been left out and to all the volunteers who have helped out over the years.