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Festival draws crowd to save trees
Hemlockfest benefits research of woolly adelgid
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Hear part of former Secretary of State Cathy Cox’s speech to Brenau Academy students.

More than 1,000 people showed up at Hemlockfest 2007 to hear bluegrass music, canoe and camp in an effort to save Georgia’s hemlock trees.

Held on 49 acres surrounding a lake near Dahlonega, the three-day music festival organized by the Lumpkin Coalition celebrated its third annual fundraiser that has generated about $10,000 in previous years for research to combat the woolly adelgid parasite that feeds on hemlock trees in forests along the eastern United States.

The festival featured Col. Bruce Hampton and the Quark Alliance, the Packway Handle Band, Rising Appalachia, Shank, Blue Mother Tupelo and Ralph Roddenbery, among many others.

Ecology professors from local colleges spoke at the festival during the day to educate attendees on the hemlock dilemma, which poses a threat to water quality and species survival in Georgia.

"The reason (the Lumpkin Coalition) got involved with the hemlock cause is because we saw there was very little time to deal with it," said Hemlockfest 2007 co-chair Forest Hilyer.

Hilyer explained that the woolly adelgid is an aphid-like parasite that was introduced to Virginia from Asia during the 1950s.

Since then, the insect has devastated forests north to Maine and in more recent years, south to Georgia.

"We have six to 10 years before we see catastrophic devastation in Georgia," he said.

Hilyer said that the introduction of beetles that prey solely on the woolly adelgid is the primary tool being implemented to save the evergreen hemlock trees, which play a definitive role in maintaining many species of birds and fish.

A large portion of the proceeds from the music festival fund beetle-raising labs at the University of Georgia, Young Harris College and North Georgia College & State University.

Although the purpose of the festival has serious undertones, festivalgoers were quick to dance and partake in canoe races across the lake located within hearing distance of the music stage.

"Col. Bruce and Dylan Blues Project were really great, and put on good shows," said Matt Brown, an Athens resident who was vending paintings, prints and hand-made soap at the festival. "We’ve had a great time. We’ll definitely be back next year," he said.

The festival also featured bluegrass recordings and massages in a silent auction, and raffle items such as a handmade quilt and a yellow kayak donated by Liquid Logic.

Firedancers, basketmakers, crafters, artists, photographers and handmade jewelry and dress vendors occupied attendees between musical performances.

Sayuri and Joe Adams, residents of Dahlonega, promoted the historical use of hemlock tea by American Indians at the festival. They sold hemlock needle tea and needle macha cake and cookies from a gazebo overlooking the lake and color-filled forest.

Sayuri Adams, who was born in Japan, said there are other species of hemlock trees in Japan. She said the Japanese word for hemlock translates to "mother tree," since the low branches of the tree shelter streams and protect animals from inclement weather during the winter.

Joe Adams said that he is trying to facilitate the exchange of art and stories about hemlocks between the U.S. and Japan, as well as conversation about the different regions’ delicate hemlock systems.

"The hemlock ironically represents long life and motherhood in Japan, but we’re looking at maybe a short life here," he said. "But we want a long life for our trees, and by studying their ecology we might be able to find a solution here."