By Caleb Hennington
Digital Content Editor
For more than 70 years, Wye Mountain United Methodist Church has given visitors a reason to smile, stay awhile, and revel in the beauty of their amazing field of thousands of daffodils.
The Wye Mountain Daffodil Festival is an annual event that happens each spring at Wye Mountain UMC, 22300 Arkansas Hwy. 113, Bigelow, AR 72016. This year’s festival takes place 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily, Saturday, March 7 through Sunday, March 15, 2020 (with potential to extend through Sunday, March 22, if the flowers are still blooming).
The church’s history extends all the way back to the early 20th century. It was founded as the Wye United Brethren Church in 1919 by Dr. Ira Holbrook. The first pastor of the church was the Rev. L.W. Beardsley in 1919, and his successor, Austin Harmon, was instrumental in getting the Daffodil Festival started at Wye Mountain.
In 1948, the Harmon family, who were members of the church, began planting daffodils on the 7-acre lot next to the church. The next year, the daffodils were picked and brought to Little Rock to sell at the local Curb Market, as well as on street corners and in other stores in the city.
Over the years, the family began to sell their flowers in other markets, and even in other states, traveling to Oklahoma and as far away as Kansas selling their blooms.
The funds earned from the sale of daffodils helped to sustain the ministry of the church, which was and still is a small congregation in Perry County.
After Austin Harmon’s death in 1965, the flower business was put on hold. There was no longer an effort to bring the flowers to markets as none of the church members had the time to do so.
So, the decision was made to bring people to the flowers instead of bringing the flowers to them, and the Daffodil Festival was born. Visitors were allowed to visit the beautiful flowers and take bundles of daffodils home for themselves.
According to Bobby Younger, communications specialist at the church, the church sees an estimated 10,000 visitors each year. There are more than 40 varieties of daffodils in bloom on the 7-acre plot.
Younger says that what draws people to the festival each year is not only the beautiful flowers but the scenic drive and fresh early spring mountain air that folks can experience on the drive up to Wye Mountain.
Although daffodils can still be picked, changes in the rules have worked to preserve the flowers until the very end of the festival. Festival-goers aren’t allowed to pick the daffodils until the last two days of the festival, for a donation of $1 per dozen flowers.
Younger says this helps to preserve the flowers for all visitors throughout the season, as well as help to fund the ministries of the church, including the festival.
The Rev. Richard Gifford, pastor at Wye Mountain UMC, said the Daffodil Festival is very important to the history of the church and the community of Wye Mountain.
“The Daffodil Festival is important because it reminds our church family of our heritage among the bold missionary families who planted our church among laborers in timber camps over a century ago,” Gifford said.
“More importantly, the Daffodil Festival enables us to demonstrate to new generations our fully-Trinitarian love for God and people. The glory of the flower field enables us to point to our creative Father. The cross in the flower field and hosted tours of our historic stone chapel enable us to promote Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Our expressions of unconditional welcome and hospitality enable us to demonstrate a Spirit-guided holiness of heart and life.”
The Wye Mountain Daffodil Festival is a free event with free parking but Younger said donations are always welcomed and accepted.
In addition to the flowers, various vendors, food trucks, live musical performances and other events will occur during the festival.
Church tours of the historic Wye Mountain Church, the only congregation in the state of Arkansas with roots in the United Brethren Church, are also available at the festival.
“Our prayer is that the Festival is a modern expression of light shining before everyone (Matthew 5:16) so that they see past us to the living God who loves us all!” Gifford said. “We are blessed each year that the Daffodil Festival connects new individuals and families more substantively to our parish mission in Perry County, across the state, and around the world.”
For more on the Wye Mountain Daffodil Festival, visit their Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/DaffodilsOnWyeMountain/.