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HemlockFest hits 9th year
Festival raises funds to save specific tree
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Ninth annual HemlockFest

When: Nov. 1-3

Where: Starbridge Sanctuary, 396 Starbridge Road, Murrayville.

Cost: $15 Friday, $25 Saturday, $10 Sunday or $50 for all three days.

The ninth annual family-friendly music and outdoor festival HemlockFest is taking place this weekend near Dahlonega and will feature about 20 bands performing a variety of styles ranging from bluegrass to blues.

Produced by the Lumpkin Coalition, a nonprofit organization formed to facilitate projects benefiting North Georgia and Lumpkin County, the event is designed to raise funds and public awareness of the problems with the state’s Eastern and Carolina hemlock trees, which are being killed by the parasitic insect hemlock woolly adelgid.

“We consider the festival family friendly, but there is beer and wine for the adults,” Lumpkin Coalition Chairman Forest Hilyer said. “There are plenty of opportunities to get your hands in the dirt and connect with your children such as the Kids Nature Village, tree climbing, canoeing and a 5-acre lake, knife throwing and archery.”

Gates open at 2 p.m. Friday and patrons are allowed, and even encouraged, to camp in the festival’s campgrounds until the festival ends late Sunday afternoon. However, the campgrounds are primitive camping only, meaning all vehicles must stay in the parking lot. Campers also must carry their equipment for a short distance.

The festival also emphasizes conservation so all refuse and purchased items must be disposed of properly or taken with you when you leave.

The festival’s bands include acts such as Soulhound, Col. Bruce Hampton and the Madrid Express, Gibson Wilbanks, Unifire and many more. A variety of mostly handcrafted merchandise and food will be provided by local restaurants such as Shenanigan’s, which is donating all profits to the festival.

Proceeds from the festival benefit three labs located at Georgia universities that are studying ways to prevent the extinction of the hemlock tree in the Eastern United States. The HWA parasite was detected in Virginia in the 1950s and it spread north and then south across the East Coast. Originally from Southern Japan, where it lives in balance with natural predators, the parasite has wreaked havoc in the region because no natural predators are present to keep the population under control.

“A single adelgid can become 90 thousand in a single year,” Hilyer said, “but the idea is not to eliminate the adelgids, but to create a predator-prey balance.

“It is overwhelming, but we are making some headway and it seems like it may work better than we originally thought.”

Currently chemical remedies are being used to fight the insect, but that is a stopgap measure until a more sustainable solution can be found, Hilyer said. Most HWA research involves introducing predatory beetles into the environment to prey on the parasites. If the spread of the parasite cannot be slowed down, hemlock trees in Georgia may be lost in as little as 15 years, according to the HemlockFest website.

Tickets cost $15 for Friday, $25 for Saturday, $10 for Sunday or $50 for all three days. Camping is only included in the three-day pass.

For more information, visit www.hemlockfest.org.

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