Lupine Festival grows back stronger than before

  • This photo by Andrew Hines of Northfield was taken for the 2015 Celebration of Lupine festival. It depicts one of the several fields of lupine visitors to Sugar Hill can expect to see during this year’s festival, set to kick off Saturday. Courtesy of Hinesight Imagery

  • One of the several fields of lupine visitors to Sugar Hill can expect to see during this year’s festival, set to kick off Saturday. Courtesy of Kristin Camp

Monitor staff
Saturday, May 27, 2017

In the first week of June, the slopes of Sugar Hill will be invaded by marching lines of purple, pink and white flowers.

The 24th Celebration of Lupine is set to kick off this weekend, a month-long festival that highlights blooming of the iconic plant. And though the festival has seen a lot of changes – in name, in leadership, in scope – in the past, Franconia Notch Regional Chamber of Commerce board member Barbara Ashley said the events planned this year will restore the celebration to its former vibrancy.

“This year is going to be the biggest comeback year,” Ashley said.

The festival began as an offshoot of the Lisbon Lilac Festival, an equally colorful event going on this weekend that predates the celebration. At the heart of it was former Sunset Hill House owner Mike Hoyal, whose property included sweeping fields of lupine and a commanding view of the Franconia mountain ranges.

“It’s one of the most famous places in the state to view the lupine,” Ashley said.

Seeing an opportunity to promote Sugar Hill, which was still trying to make a name for itself (the town is the youngest in New Hampshire, having achieved independence from Lisbon in 1962), Hoyal contacted Sugar Hill institutions Polly’s Pancake Parlor and Harman’s Cheese & Country Store. From there, the businesses put together an open air market, still the biggest event of the festival, and a book filled with coupons from local businesses, recipes, maps of the region and photos of lupine.

For about 18 years, the festival was strong, Ashley said, with tourists and professional photographers coming from around the world to experience the North Country. Unsurprisingly, the festival was big with gardeners, who would make the trip to Sugar Hill “by the busloads,” Ashley said.

But slowly, things began to change, as those involved in the festival began to step back. The festival was taken on by the Franconia Chamber of Commerce (now the Franconia Regional Chamber of Commerce), but foundered due to poor organization, Ashley said.

The biggest struggle was last year, when organizers had trouble finding sponsors for concerts and other events, Ashley said. The month-long celebration also underwent a name change from the Lupine Festival to the Celebration of Lupine, because the name created uncertainty of how long the festival lasted, Ashley said.

But despite obstacles, Ashley said this is the year the festival will be returning to its former glory. Part of that is a tie-in with Pollyanna Glad Day, a day that celebrates the unveiling of the iconic children’s book character statue that welcomes visitors into downtown Littleton.

To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the statue’s unveiling, Ashley said visitors to the festival will be able to enter a photo contest by taking a selfie or a humanless photo of the lupines with a placard that states “Celebrating Lupines Gladly” during the month of June. Placards can be downloaded on the Franconia Notch’s chamber of commerce website or found at various participating retailers.

And while the cultural landscape around the festival has changed, Ashley said, with new names and faces in some of Sugar Hill’s institutions, the beauty of the lupine – and the economic benefit they bring to the region – remains.

“It’s a great early tourism event because it occurs a bit before school gets out and continues afterwards,” Ashley said.

And even if people don’t stay for a whole weekend anymore, the lupine can have long-lasting economic benefits, Ashley said.

“Businesses want the weekend traffic because they’ll take what they can get,” she said. “And they want to show people that, hey, this is a place you can come back to and vacation in the winter.”

For a full list of Celebration events, visit franconianotch.org/events/celebration-lupines-throughout-june-copy-2.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCandrews.)