MSNBC: In most jurisdictions, the prospect of hitting an animal while driving down the road is enough to fill a traveler with dread.
In Marlinton, W.Va., it’s an excuse to throw a party — as in the West Virginia RoadKill Cook-off and Autumn Harvest Festival, which will be held on September 24. From Dixie Deer Chili to Route 219 Turtle Soup, it’s a centerline-smorgasbord of culinary creations. It’s also Overhead Bin’s September honoree as Weird Festival of the Month.
“This is an excellent area for wildlife,” said Gail Hyer, marketing specialist for the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau. She is fully aware of the irony of that statement.
“With all the twisty, turny roads up here in the mountains, there’s a lot of roadkill,” she told msnbc.com.
Fortunately for the squeamish, the festival doesn’t require that the dishes on display be made with actual roadkill. According to the official rules, “most of the judges would prefer that it didn’t.” Instead, dishes must be based on any animal commonly found by the side of the road.
As a result, competitors have served up everything from local casualties — raccoons, possum and deer — to more exotic fender fare, including armadillo, alligator and buffalo.
“I don’t know what highway you find roadkill buffalo on,” said Hyer, “but it was definitely a crowd favorite.”
That crowd, which was 18,000 strong last year, includes many who pay $2 for a wristband that entitles them to taste each creation and vote for the People’s Choice award. There’s also a professionally judged competition for those with higher aspirations.
For the latter, points are awarded for taste, originality, presentation and showmanship, but as the rules jokingly note, “Judges will deduct points for every chipped tooth resulting from gravel not removed from the roadkill.”
While the cook-off is clearly the highlight of the festival, there are other events for those who lack an adventurous palate and cast-iron stomach. In addition to live music and a craft show, visitors can enter the Possum Trot 5K run/walk, try their luck in a rubber ducky race on the nearby Greenbrier River and witness the formal introduction of Ms. West Virginia Roadkill 2011.
There’s also the annual Roadkill Rodeo, which Hyer assures us, is conducted with animals that are, at least momentarily, alive and breathing. “If they lose, who knows?” she said, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
And humor is clearly the order of the day. “We know people poke fun of us mountain people,” she said. “And there’s nobody that pokes fun at us better than us.”