The whole thing started with former Pender County tourism director Katherine Adams.

The whole thing started with former Pender County tourism director Katherine Adams.

According to former Burgaw town manager Martin Beach, Adams thought Pender County needed an event, a celebration to bring the community together. And what better to celebrate than the county’s distinctive crop, the blueberry?

“Of course, we started without any money,” Beach said.

Still, a few movers and shakers banded together: future Burgaw Mayor Pete Cowan. Wayne Batten of the Cooperative Extension Service, Burgaw antiques dealer John Westbrook and more.

To raise money, organizers threw a pork chop dinner (with blueberry cobbler for dessert). To raise some more money, they threw a pancake breakfast. To save money, they hired the same bands from the N.C. Seafood Festival up in Morehead City, who were going to be in the area at the same time.

Thus, in 2004, began the first N.C. Blueberry Festival in Burgaw. “We were expecting, maybe, 1,000 people,” recalled Beach, who served a term as festival chairman. But many more showed up for the family friendly event.

Churches soon learned they could raise funds by selling muffins, pies and cobblers – anything as long as blueberries were an ingedient. (Blueberry slush punch was an early hit.) Early on, the Pender High School athletic boosters began staging a barbecue cookoff. An essay contest, offering scholarships to local high school students, was a feature from the start.

As the years passed, more features were added, such as the classic car show on the town square. The annual 5K run and walk were added in the festival’s third year. Children’s rides were added in 2011.

According to Mayor Cowan, it wouldn’t be possible without volunteers. “Without the volunteers, the festival wouldn’t be possible,” Cowan said. “They’re what make it successful.”

Today, Batten noted, the annual June festival attracts more than 30,000 visitors to Burgaw and pumps an estimated $1.3 million into the local economy. In 2012, the N.C. Association of Festivals and Events voted the N.C. Blueberry Festival its “Event of the Year.”

“It exceeds our expectations,” Cowan said of the festival. “We underestimated our visitors’ interest in local festivals.” And Cowan notes, it’s no longer a local festival. “We get visitors from all over the state, from other states. And that has had a tremendous impact on our ability to award scholarships and has created a venue for our nonprofits to raise funds.”


Want to go?

The North Carolina Blueberry Festival will be held June 15 in downtown Burgaw. Parking will be available at Pender Landing Shopping Center, located at the intersection of U.S. 117 and 53, as well as at the Pender County Government Complex, 801 Walker St.

The festival lineup includes:

7:15 a.m. - Tour de Blueberry Ride check-in

7:30 a.m. - 5k Run/Walk

8:30 a.m. - Tour de Blueberry Ride Begins

9 a.m. - Vendors Open, Car Show, Antique Show and Sale

9 a.m. - The Gospel Lites

10 a.m. - Opening Ceremony

11 a.m. - Steve Owens & Summertime Band

11:45 a.m. and 2 p.m. - Appearance and Magic Show by Ronald McDonald

3 p.m. - Spare Change Band, Car and Truck Show Awards

6 p.m. - The Band of OZ

9 p.m. - Festival Closes