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Highway 6: The history behind the North Carolina Blueberry Festival

Cowan grew up in Burgaw and has served the town for decades, including years as the town’s mayor.
Updated: Jun. 15, 2022 at 5:55 AM EDT
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BURGAW, N.C. (WECT) - The North Carolina Blueberry Festival returns to Burgaw this weekend. The festival is celebrating its 19th year in 2022, but returning in-person for the first time since 2019 due to the pandemic.

Blueberries and Burgaw are near and dear to Pete Cowan’s heart. Cowan grew up in Burgaw and has served the town for decades, including years as the town’s mayor.

“I grew up in this area, retired in 2000, came back home and spent the time giving back to the community that helped- that gave me a lot growing up in this community,” Cowan said.

In 2003, Cowan and other town leaders were brainstorming ideas to bring more people to Burgaw. One of those leaders suggested a hosting a festival.

“At the time we started talking, we were in blueberry season, so she said, ‘why not a blueberry festival?’ So, that’s how it started,” said Cowan.

The idea, however, needed more effort and planning to become a reality.

“And the first year, we really had no money, no sponsors,” said Cowan. “We started digging and hired our first band and we didn’t really have any money, so, we had guaranteed a band and we convinced them to take the chance on us.”

The first festival in 2004 exceeded expectations. Cowan is still amazed at what the festival has become.

“We would have been happy to have 1,000 people,” said Cowan. “The first year of the festival, we had 5,000 and the festival doubled in population, visitor population, until we got 20,000. It hasn’t really struggled because we continue to enjoy so many people coming into the area.”

Festival organizers are also proud of the impact the festival has on the Pender County economy. Each year, the festival awards scholarships to local students and raises money for Pender County Schools.

Like blueberries on a bush, Cowan hopes the festival sees even more growth this year.

“It’s sort of become part of my way of life now,” Cowan laughed, “It grows on you.”

WECT will be in Burgaw throughout the festival on Friday and Saturday, you can click here to read more about the festival and upcoming events.

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