Town celebrates annual Hopkins Forest Festival

Sunday marked the 25th year of the Hopkins Memorial Forest Fall Festival. Despite the heavy rains, the festivities went on as scheduled and the few who attended enjoyed themselves. Activities included cider pressing, apple butter brewing, woodworking demonstrations and a musical performance on steel drums.

The event, coordinated by the Center for Environmental Studies (CES), is held annually to celebrate the changing of the seasons. The activities have evolved over the years.

“At the beginning the festival was more agricultural, now it is more focused on the forest,” said Drew Jones, the manager of the Hopkins Memorial Forest.

Sunday’s weather was not ideal for an outdoor forest festival. Many of the popular stations such as the Canopy Walkway and the ropes course were closed, and the turnout for the event was well under what it has been in past years.

“Last year, there were approximately 350 people,” Jones said. “This year is by far the worst weather we have had.”

There were only about twenty-five people who decided to partake in the festivities, each for different reasons.

For three long-time friends Lucy Thiboutot ’05, Kelly Morgen ’05 and Craig Olshan ’05 the festival is something that brings them together once a year despite their hectic school schedules. They have been coming to the festival for the past three years and were not going to let the rain ruin their fun.

“We took our first picture here together as freshman, right here in front of the cider press,” Thiboutot said. At this year’s festival Morgen and Thiboutot worked as a team at the cider press and reminisced about past festival experiences.

“It gets really exciting when you get down to the painful part,” Morgen said. Their hard work paid off when, after all of their hard work, they enjoyed a cup of the fresh pressed cider. For others such as Daniel Sussman ’07, the festival was an opportunity to explore Hopkins Forest and meet some new friends.

One of the main themes of the festival was appreciating what the forest has to offer, specifically apples and wood. “It is amazing what you can get out of the forest,” Jones said.

The forest festival provides a fun way to learn about history. At the cider pressing station people assisted in the process and enjoyed a fresh pressed cup afterwards. The procedure was relatively simple, requiring little more than fresh apples and muscle power.

“Apple cider was the drink of choice in revolutionary times,” David Ticehurst ’04 said.

“And do you know why?” asked Karl Alberga, one of the directors of the cider pressing operation, “It was safer to drink than water. Water had to be purified. Cider also tastes better and if you keep it long enough it gets really nice.”

Some talked about the fermentation process of cider as well. Cider has its own natural yeast and if left untouched it will ferment, just like wine. “Apple cider is naturally about ten percent sugar, so over time it will ferment to about five or six percent alcohol,” Ticehurst said.

The other apple related station was the apple butter brewing station. Walking Catamount, a volunteer and traditional Mohawk storyteller, made the apple butter. The simple recipe consisted of apples, cider, apple cider vinegar, nutmeg and cloves. The only hard part was stirring for hours on end.

Next to the “Moon Barn,” Richard Babcock, the oldest and one of the most famous timber framers in America, demonstrated how to make beams out of logs.

Unlike the modern methods used by the saw mills, Babcock does everything by hand, which results in a much stronger beam than the modern technique.

He restores old barns all over the country and in various places around the world. Babcock is a native of Williamstown and has a deep-rooted family history here, with relatives who served in every major American- fought war since the Civil War.

He says that before restoring a building or monument he does a lot of research, “so the history doesn’t get lost.” Historical preservation is important to Babcock. “I am interested in saving the history by building memorials,” he said.

The other popular activity was shake splitting led by Lauren Stevens. Shake splitting is making wooden shingles by pounding a maul on top of a piece of wood. “Its like anger management,” Stevens said.

Those that braved it out in the rain to Hopkins Memorial Fall Forest Festival enjoyed the activities and their taste buds were certainly satisfied.