93rd KMLF adds link to ‘chain of memories’

Published 3:10 am Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Kentucky’s longest running and most tradition rich festival added another link to its ‘chain of memories’ this weekend as Pineville hosted the 93rd Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival.

From Thursday evening’s opening ceremony highlighted with a great show from Struggle Jennings and several special guests to the coronation of a new queen on Saturday afternoon all of the festival’s events went off without a hitch. Even the weather cooperated with sunny skies and no rain for the outdoor activities on Friday and Saturday.

“We had some challenges up front, the weather forecast didn’t look good,” said 2024 KMLF chair Kristy Burnett. “I did not skip church on Wednesday night before Thursday’s opening just because I knew I needed the prayers. So my prayer committee at church, my pastor, and many other people in the community sent texts to let me know they were praying for me and for a good festival and it came through. We had some of the most perfect weather I think we could have — besides Wednesday when the vendors pulled in. It was absolutely soaking, but I appreciate those vendors for sticking it out and staying and I hope it paid off for them.”

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Whitney Taylor Caldwell, representing the University of the Cumberlands, is the 2024 KMLF Queen. A native of Pineville, she becomes just the second local candidate to be crowned queen in the festival’s 93 years. Whitney is the daughter of Ronnie and Shannon Caldwell.

The queen’s coronation was held Saturday afternoon at Pine Mountain State Park’s Laurel Cove Amphitheater. Gov. Andy Beshear was unable to attend, but he was represented by Lindy Casebier, the secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, who had the honor of crowning Caldwell as the queen.

“This was a great experience,” Casebier said. “It’s a great opportunity to represent the governor and be here at Pine Mountain State Park because it’s Kentucky State Parks’ 100 anniversary this year so this is a great milestone and I’m just honored to be a part of it.”

Casebier was joined by Parks Commissioner Russ Meyer at the traditional Governor’s Luncheon at the Pine Mountain Lodge. With the park hosting several dinners and other events for the festival, Kentucky’s first state park was the perfect place for them to kick off the 100th anniversary celebration.

“We’re so proud to be part of the festivities here. Rita Edmondson and Tom Brown with the park always rise to the occasion,” Casebier said. “For a century our parks have served visitors across the Commonwealth and beyond with national and international visitors traveling to all of our parks and taking part in all that they have to offer. Our Kentucky State Parks are integral to the state’s economy, they provide jobs and support nearby businesses. Our parks have created memories for generations that have grown up coming to our parks.”

Meyer added that the weekend is always a lot of fun to attend.

“It is great to work with all of  the communities within our park system, but this one here is special,” he said. “You put on an awesome event that we all look forward to coming down to every year in the Mountain Laurel Festival. I’m thrilled to be here with you all for this wonderful tradition.”

Burnett said it was fitting for the park system to start their 100th anniversary celebration with the KMLF because Pine Mountain State Resort Park plays such an integral role in the festival each year.

“With our relationship the way we work together, this year we’ve been able to come up with wonderful dinners and entertainment for everyone that was visiting the festival,” she said. “I just appreciate all of the hard work that Rita and her staff have done, plus the Mountain Laurel Festival Foundation, the advisory boards and KMLF President John Combs —  just all of the hard work that we’ve all done together. If we didn’t have each other then we would both be hard-pressed.”

Friday evening Combs had the honor of crowning  new KMLF Princess Kamryn Reese Burnett of Bell County High School. She is the daughter of Lance Burnett and Tonya Phipps and lives just minutes from the lodge in the Clear Creek community.

Friday afternoon ARH sponsored the Queen’s reception at the home of Denise Callebs. Saturday’s festivities started with a 5K run/walk through downtown Pineville and an al fresco breakfast at Presbyterian Field hosted by Lincoln Memorial University. Then the annual Gala Parade down Kentucky Avenue.