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Festival rallies around the hemlock tree
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Bob Billings carries a giant Hemlock tree "puppet" through the audience Sunday at HemlockFest in Lumpkin County. - photo by Tom Reed

People interested in good music and protecting the environment gathered near Murrayville this weekend for the Fourth Annual HemlockFest.

The Lumpkin Coalition held the event Friday through Sunday on a farm near the Hall-Lumpkin County line to help raise money for saving North Georgia’s hemlock forests from destruction by the hemlock woolly adelgid.

The festival included music, food, activities for all ages, vendors and live demonstrations. Some of the musical performers at this year’s HemlockFest included The Solstice Sisters, Emerald Rose, 6-Day Bender and many others. In addition to listening to the performances, families could enjoy canoeing, rock painting, archery and knife-throwing. There was also a puppet show for kids during the weekend. People were also allowed to camp throughout the weekend.

Many vendors were set up during the weekend selling some of their natural crafts and products.

Orea VanDoran of Jasper was there selling his handmade river cane flutes, Aboriginal didgeridoo and Japanese bamboo flutes.

"I’m a hiker, and at the lodge in Amicalola Falls they had brochures up about the event. So I thought I’d come help support the hemlock," said VanDoran.

VanDoran has been making river cane flutes for 17 years as a hobby. He does shows all over the Southeast and Utah.

"I hope to come back next year," said VanDoran

The Shaklee booth, one of few not featuring natural crafts, offered environment-friendly products. Dodi Pritchett and Debbie Loveless, both Shaklee representatives and both of Gainesville, were there to tell people about how they can help save the environment.

"Shaklee was born green," said Loveless.

"Everything we do has the environment and human body in mind," said Pritchett.

Started in 1956, Shaklee is dedicated to making people and the planet healthier, according to the company Web site. In addition to offering "green" cleaning products, the company also backs several groups in their missions to help the environment, including the company’s own initiative to have members and distributors plant a million trees.

"We are here to create an awareness of these products and to raise money for the hemlocks," said Pritchett.

The money raised from HemlockFest goes toward the Lumpkin Coalition in its fight to save the hemlock trees from the hemlock woolly adelgid. The adelgid is a small insect that attaches itself to the base of a hemlock tree’s leaves and sinks its mouth into the tree’s tissue. It sucks out the sap and inserts a toxic saliva that can kill the tree in a few years. It is spreading to forests all over North Georgia and without help, the hemlocks will be extinct. The money will go to support the labs at the University of Georgia, Young Harris and North Georgia College & State University that are raising adelgid-eating beetles to help save the hemlocks.

All of the vendors are also giving back to help save the hemlocks. Volunteers and vendors alike at the festival say it is an important issue.

"Everybody can do something to help," said Loveless.

"Most of the people who have come who haven’t already helped out are planning to do something to help out," said Pritchett. "It’s cool."

To find out more about the Lumpkin Coalition or on how to save the hemlocks, go to