Remembering Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival

Published 2:05 pm Friday, May 22, 2020

It is a somber weekend in Bell County as many are longing to be celebrating the 90th annual Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival. Instead, many are spending the weekend at home due to concerns of COVID-19.

Preparations for the festival began in February much like in years past with the selection of the Gala Parade grand marshal. 

General Chairman for the 2020 KMLF Colby Slusher announced Mike Pratt as the year’s grand marshal for the parade that was scheduled to take place Saturday, May 23, at 10 a.m. Due to the ongoing concerns of the pandemic, the festival has been cancelled for 2020. 

“The health and safety of you, your families and the visitors to our community are first and foremost in our minds,” said Neal Bennett, KMLF board of directors president.  

The discussion to either postpone or cancel the event began early April following the extension of school closures throughout the community and the continued spread of the virus. 

The Kentucky Mountain Laurel is one of Kentucky’s oldest festivals dating back to its start in 1931. That year, the festival was established by Annie Walker Burns as a way to honor her famous ancestor, Dr. Thomas Walker. Since its inception, the continued devotion of so many has kept the festival tradition alive.  

Kentucky State Parks have closed their dining rooms, and in Pineville, The Cove at Pine Mountain State Park, will remain closed through the month of May. Many vendors, entertainment acts, and colleges are unavailable to serve or perform.

Slusher said in a statement that this was one of the hardest announcements he’s ever had to make. 

“The festival is a staple to the Pineville community and important to everyone in Bell County and across our great commonwealth. With students out of school, businesses closed, and business as usual at a standstill the local advisory board voted unanimously to cancel this year’s festival,” he said.

The festival brings together visitors from across the southeast to take part in the parade, a 5K, and the princess and queen crowning. 

Every option was evaluated and a decision was officially made by those that serve on the festival board. 

“I am confident that we as Kentuckians will persevere and get through these uncertain times, but unfortunately we don’t know when that time will come,” Slusher said. “Many thoughts and prayers be with all those during this time of uncertainty. We hope to see each of you next year happy and healthy at the 2021 Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival.”

Although the community cannot join together to celebrate the 90th year of the festival, the board of directors is encouraging the community to post pictures on their social media and tag KMLF. 

“In honor of KMLF week, let’s flood Facebook with all the memories of years past,” the group posted on its Facebook page. “Wear pink and green and share your pictures from wherever you are!” 

Main Street Pineville set out last week to brighten downtown Pineville with a clean-up and revitalization project. 

“This week would normally see us finishing up our preparations for the Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival,” said Director of Main Street Pineville Jacob Roan. “While we are saddened to miss our beloved event, we are choosing to recognize the beauty of Pineville by cleaning up our downtown as if we were about to welcome all of our KMLF family.” 

Many community members expressed their sadness over the cancellation of the beloved festival but are looking forward to future plans. 

General inquiries or questions can be directed to the Kentucky Mountain Laurel festival office by calling 606-337-6103.