Rites of Spring: Rainbow & Ramps Festival | Cherokee, NC

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Rites of Spring: Rainbow & Ramps Festival

(Rainbow and Ramps meal, photograph by Kristy M. Herron)

Nothing symbolizes spring in Cherokee quite like two local delicacies: rainbow trout and ramps. At the annual Rainbow and Ramps Festival on March 26th you can try a plate topped with both, plus other seasonal veggies, for only $10 per meal, for a true “taste of Cherokee.”

As a community event, the Rainbow and Ramps festival honors the elders in Cherokee, with family and friends gathering to eat, play games, and enjoy entertainment. It's estimated that around 700 meals will be served. This year, the cultural ambassadors known as the Warriors of AniKituhwa will perform traditional Cherokee dances.

What are Ramps?

For the uninitiated, ramps are a type of wild onion, sometimes called “mountain leeks,“ and are one of the first green vegetables to appear in springtime in the Appalachian Mountains. Ramps are prized for their unique flavor, tasting like a mix between onion and garlic, and they’re only available for a few weeks each season, making them highly desirable to chefs and foodies across the country. As a green, ramps are delicate. Fresh, they only last a couple of days, although they can be pickled or frozen for longer enjoyment.

(Photo by Danielle Scott via Flickr)

For the Rainbow and Ramps festival, local Cherokee members gather the wild ramps from their family ramp patches in locations that are kept secret. Carefully, they harvest the young tips, leaving the roots intact so that the plants continue to grow. For Cherokee, ramps are so much more than a gourmet onion–they are an important part of their history and culture. For over 12,000 years, Cherokee have ceremoniously gathered ramps each spring for eating and cooking, as well as for medicinal purposes due to their high levels of vitamin C and antibiotic properties.

Rainbows Stretching Over 30 Miles

While ramps are somewhat fleeting, rainbow trout courses through the rivers in and around Cherokee, and can be easily caught with a permit. Cherokee Fisheries and Wildlife Management stocks 30 miles of mountain streams twice weekly, and there are wild varieties in the mix as well. For anglers, the Rainbow and Ramps festival marks the official start of the fishing season, and a chance to compete for $20,000 in tagged fish in the Opening Day Fishing Competition.

Horseshoe Tournament

For the second year in a row, a Horseshoe Tournament will also be held during the festival with first and second place teams awarded prize money from the registration fees.

“Horseshoes used to be one of the grand games in Cherokee,” says Christopher Watty, the Rainbow and Ramps emcee and cultural specialist for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Although he notes that cornhole may be more popular these days, he’s hopeful that horseshoes are making a comeback.​

(Photo by tramporgel via Flickr

“The older people are bringing the horseshoes back,” he says. “It’s social, and we play it like a gentleman’s game.”

Like many others who grew up in Cherokee, Christopher used to play horseshoes every Sunday. It was part of his family tradition, and typical for many other Cherokee families.  

“We’d cook a big spread for family on Sundays and then we’d all go outside and play horseshoes. We never stayed inside watching football; we played outside,” he said.

He says that at the Rainbow and Ramps Horseshoe tournament, the competitors range from 20 to 70 years old.

Horseshoes, he says, is a game for everybody.    

Schedule of Events

10:30 a.m.  Doors open, Horseshoe Tournament starts

11:15 a.m.  Blessing & lunch for Elders

11:20 a.m.  Lunch & music by the Ross Brothers

12:00 p.m.  Meals for sale & dancing by J Creek Cloggers

12:30 p.m.  Warriors of AniKituhwa

1:00 p.m.     Bingo (4-6 Games)

Admission/Ticket Price

$10.00 charge per meal.

Horseshoe Tournament entry fee is $30 per team.


Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds, 545 Tsali Blvd. Cherokee, NC 28719

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