Hundreds of people gathered in the McDonnell Center on the campus of Davis & Elkins College Thursday to celebrate old traditions and new beginnings during the Mountain State Forest Festival's Distinguished Guest Dinner.
The featured speaker, Walt Helmick, West Virginia commissioner of Agriculture, spoke about the importance of the MSFF's importance to the state.
"The Mountain State Forest Festival has a huge economic impact in the state," Helmick said. "The event means $25 million to the state."
Distinguished Guest Dinner attendees can be seen through an empty souvenir wine glass Thursday night at the McDonnell Center on the campus of Davis & Elkins College. (The Inter-Mountain photo by Angelea Goodwin)
Helmick said he has participated in 24 MSFF Grand Feature Parades in a row.
"What a wonderful experience," Helmick said. "Traveling through the Grand Feature Parade and seeing all of the visitors lining the streets of Elkins shows the impact the Festival has on Elkins and the state of West Virginia."
Helmick said that West Virginia needs to move forward and push agriculture to the forefront.
"We need to engage and embrace agribusiness," Helmick said."We will move forward, but we need people across West Virginia to do so. I challenge you to move agriculture to the next level."
Queen Silvia LXXVI Emily Everson thanked Mike Karlen, director general of the 76th Mountain State Forest Festival, for choosing her to share in last year's Festival.
"My family had a 50-year tradition of traveling to Elkins for the Mountain State Forest Festival," Everson said. "Now I have a new tradition of coming back to the Festival to spend time with my biological family and my new Forest Festival family. I am filled with joy for the experience of serving as Queen Silvia, and have made memories that will last a lifetime."
Everson said before her reign, Elkins was just a beautiful place for her to visit, but now she considers it a second home.
MSFF Director General for 2012 Mike Karlen presented Everson with a commemorative doll for her service as Queen Silvia LXXVI.
Maid Silvia LXXVII Ashley Elizabeth Houchin thanked 2013 Director General Cricket Leary for choosing her to serve in this year's Festival.
"This week has been a celebration of the beauty of our state, and of families and friendships," Houchin said. "My family is my greatest gift in life. As Ted Kennedy said, there are good ships, and there are wood ships, the ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are friendships, and may they always be."
Houchin and her Royal Court will descend Coronation Hill today at 2 p.m. when she will be crowned Queen Silvia LXXVII by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
The Distinguished Guest Dinner was sponsored by McNeer, Highland, McMunn & Varner. The pre-dinner social was sponsored by Innovative Investments.