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HemlockFest focuses forest activism in Murrayville
Sixth annual event helps to fend off hemlock woolly adelgid
Musical act the Vespers perform during the sixth annual HemlockFest in Murrayville Saturday. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Click here to find out more about the Lumpkin Coalition and HemlockFest.

White water kayaker Sam Muller has a personal interest in the hemlock trees that line the rivers where he paddles.

The large trees keep the water cool during the summer months. “As they die, they turn an ugly gray color, which sometimes is seen across the entire hillside. They also fall in the river and block the routes,” he said.

The Athens college student was one of more than 1,000 people to travel to Murrayville Saturday for a three-day festival that generates money to save Eastern and Carolina hemlock trees. The trees are being devastated by an insect called the hemlock woolly adelgid. This year’s HemlockFest included more than 30 hours of music from live bands, along with food, vendors and activities. As in past years, people were allowed to camp out on the property. Weekend temperatures fell into the low 30s, organizers said.

“It got pretty cold this weekend. Some of the campers saw ice crystals on their tents and cups stuck to the tables,” volunteer Ron Ryno said.

Families enjoyed a day of storytelling, canoeing, frisbee golf, nature walks and rock painting. At night, the event offered an after-hours acoustic jam and fire dancers. Many vendors were also set up during the weekend and featured natural crafts and products.

Chainsaw artist Christina White was selling large yard art pieces, and taking time to watch the concerts from her lawn chair.

“The quality of music gets better every year,” she said.

The music included genres such as newgrass, Celtic rock and jam bands. The host band was Emerald Rose, which is based in Murrayville. Band member Brian Sullivan owns the 30-acre property where the festival is held.

“There’s a large section of the population in Lumpkin County that is environmentally friendly. Many of us are ex-hippies gone corporate and we fall under that crowd,” Arthur Hinds of Emerald Rose said.

“This has really grown into a movement,” bandmate Clyde Gilbert added.

The festival was in its sixth year, and money raised from HemlockFest goes toward the Lumpkin Coalition in its fight to save the hemlock trees from the hemlock woolley adelgid. The adelgid is a small insect, introduced to the U.S. from Asia in the 1950. It attaches to the stems at the base of the needles and drains the tree of sap. The bug’s toxic saliva can kill the tree within a few years.

They are spreading to forests throughout North Georgia and environmentalists fear they will cause hemlocks to become extinct.

Lumpkin Coalition will send the proceeds to research labs throughout Georgia that are raising adelgid-eating beetles to save the trees.

“Many of us are environmentalists so we don’t want to go the pesticide route,” Ryno said.

Because the event is volunteer-driven, most of the proceeds went to saving the hemlocks. Vendors also offered to donate 10 percent of their profits to the cause and several donated art pieces for the silent auction.

The festival has raised more than $600,000 for research in the last six years.

Dahlonega resident Andrea Sells said it was her third year at the festival. She comes out for the music to support the trees. A large hemlock grows in her yard.

“I’ve been watching for those nasty bugs. So far, I haven’t had any problems,” she said.

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