After being struck by two 500-year floods in 2010, much of the Olive Hill community faced hard times as businesses and neighborhoods struggled to rebuild. The impact felt by the floods was vast, but also gave the community something around which to unite. They formed a motto: “Olive Hill Strong” and got to work.
The Olive Hill area has a rich history and traditions including annual festivals that have been celebrated for decades. In recent years, the community has pulled together to strengthen those events and to add more.
Many of the events are hosted “on the hill” in the old Olive Hill High School, built in 1929. The school sits on a hill, 103 stone steps up, overlooking downtown, and was renovated by the Olive Hill Historical Society for the specific purpose of hosting these community events, and to house the Society and the town branch of the Carter County Public Library.
This year, the first Trail Town Specular was scheduled for June, and was designed to showcase what the Trail Town status that Olive Hill gained in 2014 from the State of Kentucky is all about. Unfortunately, a severe storm caused the events to be canceled. The Specular would have included a kayak and a cycling route to Carter Caves State Park, a 5k walking/running race planned by The Galaxy Project, as well as horseback riding.
“We’re not going to give up. I’ll tell you that,” said Lisa Conley, President of the Olive Hill Chamber of Commerce.
The community also started the Trail Town Stage to showcase local and regional musical talents. The annual event is a day-long music festival developed by the Olive Hill Historical Society, The Galaxy Project, and the Olive Hill Council for Planning and Restoration, with sponsorship by Toyota Tsusho America, Inc.
There are many other events year round. Each spring, the Chamber hosts a celebration of Tom T. Hall, a well-known folk singer born and raised in Olive Hill. Due to health, he hasn’t been able to travel to the celebration from him home in Franklin, Tennessee, for several years. Though, according to a recent exchange with Conley, he said, “Home would be the first place he would want to go.” This year, his brother, Larry, a Carter County resident, represented him.
In early July, Olive Hill held their 50th Annual Homecoming Parade, and the 29th Annual Shriners Bluegrass Festival was July 11-13, 2019.
In addition, the community collaborates with Carter Caves State Park to promote the events and activities they offer, and vice versa. Many business owners are starting to see the benefit in promoting the events, as well as other restaurants and places to visit.
“The owner of the Drive-In is always asking people, ‘Have you gone down here? Have you checked this out?’” Conley said, “That cross promotion is catching on tremendously. You just don’t find people as welcoming as here. When people visit from other countries or states, they are just floored by our hospitality. Our people are our strongest asset.”
An important addition to these efforts will be a welcome center in the old railroad depot, which is currently being renovated through a partnership with the Chamber and the City. Currently, visitors can only get information from city hall or by traveling to Carter Caves, which is a long drive away from downtown. The Chamber and City hope to open the center next spring 2020.
“We’re seeing change in our community. We say we are Olive Hill strong, and we really are,” Conley said.
The community is currently preparing for ‘It’s Fall Y’all’ on October 26, a festival in its third year. There will be plenty of games, including plank board and bed races down Tygart Street, as well as food and artist booths, from 11-4pm. Music on the Trail Town Stage music will start that evening. If you want to plan a visit sooner, the Historical Society recently completed a new display just in time for this year’s July 4 festivities. The display covers the old gym floor, and displays range from unique items from the Dixie Theatre (the town’s old theatre) to pre-historic fossils.
Pulling together as a community to strengthen current assets and generate new ideas is the epitome of Appalachia’s New Day.
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