Carter's cars: Interstate traffic snarled by... apple festival
Cars backed up for miles on Saturday, October 9, snaking from Route 53 onto Route 20 South and then even further–- onto Interstate 64 at exit 121. It prompted the temporary closure of Route 53. But those who assumed an accident was to blame for the traffic-stopping snarl were wrong: it was the allure of apples and the call of Carter Mountain, where the annual Apple Festival was taking place.
The mountain-top business doesn't keep attendance records, says Chiles, but she believes the possibly record-breaking turnout was thanks to a confluence of events: a perfect fall day, the ripening of popular varieties Fujis and Granny Smiths, and the fact that there was no home UVA football game to distract families looking for some bonding time at a mountain that stands 1278 feet above sea level and over 400 feet above nearby Monticello.
"After a hot summer and a hot September," Chiles notes, "people are looking for something to do outside on one of these pretty days."
People may have been looking for something to do that day at Carter Mountain, but not everyone found it.
At its worst, the traffic jam prevented families, who in some case had driven in from out of town, from accessing the orchard. In an effort to further reduce the number of cars, Albemarle County Police sent out a press release alerting media to the "extremely heavy traffic delays" due to the festival.
"We waited in traffic for two hours," say Rebecca Lindenmuth, who'd traveled from New Kent County, 20 minutes east of Richmond, in a caravan of four cars carrying 14 kids and 10 adults. After inching forward for hours, Lindenmuth says she finally made it to the light at routes 20 and 53– only to be turned away.
"It was horrible," she says. She and her boyfriend–- and the seven children with them, ages 4 to 16– gave up and headed to the Downtown Mall for lunch before returning home. Most frustrating, she recalls, was calling up to the Orchard early on while sitting in traffic to ask if there was a reason for the delay.
"She said, 'Come on up, everything's great, we have overflow parking," says Lindenmuth, who more than a week later gives the Orchard employee the benefit of the doubt. "I'm assuming she didn't know what was happening down below," she says.
The frustration drivers felt spilled over onto the Orchard's Facebook page, where that night numerous people who'd experienced the jam vented. "Absolutely horrible," wrote one, who reported a similar situation to Lindenmuth's–- driving two hours with a three-year-old, only to be turned away by a police officer.
Other posters, however, stepped in to defend the Orchard and to suggest an earlier arrival on busy weekend days, especially for those traveling with small children.
Chiles says the number of visitors Sunday, October 10 was equally large but traffic wasn't an issue–- a fact she credits to efforts the orchard took to warn customers both on Facebook and by email that there could be delays and to recommend coming early or late in the day. Peak hours on any weekend, she says, are 11am to mid-afternoon.
And Chiles urges those visitors who didn't make it to Carter Mountain on festival weekend to give it another try. Or try a weekday when the crowds–- and, alas, the activities–- are fewer.
"We have apples for people to pick up through mid-November," she says. "If people want to avoid crowds, come later in the season."
Lindenmuth says she's planning to do just that as she and her boyfriend are planning to visit the orchard this Sunday. They will, however, do one thing differently.
"We're going to leave really early to get there," she says.