As March winds whip across open landscapes, kite-flying becomes a popular pastime. In Lorton, Va., the annual Family Kite Day at Gunston Hall is set next Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. It was in this same meadow over 200 years ago that the children of George Mason ran with their kites. Mason, framer of the Constitution and author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, built Gunston Hall in 1755, and at that time the plantation contained over 5,000 acres. Today only 550 acres remain, but the estate looks much as it did when the Mason family lived there.
The mansion is filled with 18th century furnishings, and the kitchen, yard and schoolhouse have been restored. The famous boxwood garden is still intact, and visitors can walk the nature trail to the Mason graveyard.
Next Sunday the sheep will be removed from the meadow so there will be plenty of room for kite-flying. If you forget your kite, you can buy one at the museum shop on the estate. At the mansion throughout the day, ladies in costume will demonstrate hearth cooking, the use of herbs and other 18th century cooking methods, while in the laundry visitors can use the old irons and water buckets. Needlework skills will be taught by an interpreter dressed as a governess of the 18th century period, and in the old schoolhouse you can try your skill at writing with quill pens and other hands-on activities from the old school days.
The Bob Brown Puppets will present "The Reluctant Dragon" in Gunston Hall's meeting room. Two performances are scheduled, 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Popcorn will be sold from McWhirters' antique popcorn wagon, and barbecue, soft drinks and funnel cakes will also be available.
Children under the age of 15 will be admitted free on Kite Day. Adults pay the regular admission of $4, which includes a house and grounds tour and the day's activities.
Gunston Hall is 20 miles south of Washington and can be reached by Interstate-95 or U.S. Route 1 to the Lorton Exit. For information, call (703) 550-9220.
Highland County, Va., goes all out to celebrate its maple sugar production with the 34th annual Highland Maple Festival. Two weekends of festivities are scheduled Saturday and next Sunday and the following week end, March 21 and 22. Sponsored by the Highland County Chamber of Commerce, it is the southernmost maple festival in the United States.
All the sugar camps in the area welcome visitors to watch the process of syrup-making. One of the camps, Eagle's Sugar Camp, located just north of McDowell on state Route 624, has been producing syrup for over 200 years, and here you can see the different methods of gathering sugar water. There is another camp in the McDowell area and two more on state Route 637, a route that takes you through the Blue Grass Valley, an area noted for its scenic beauty. The sugar tour is free, and maps are available from the Chamber of Commerce booth inside the Court House at Monterey. You can also visit the Maple Museum on U.S. Route 220 just south of Monterey. It's a replica of an old sugar house, and admission is free.
Antiques and craft exhibits will be set up in a Ruritan building, schools, fire houses, and shops in Monterey and McDowell. Entertainment will be provided each afternoon at the Stonewall Ruritan Building in McDowell and in the courthouse area at Monterey. You'll see cloggers, storytellers, jugglers, bluegrass and country musicians and demonstrations by craftspeople. And there will be dancing from 8 p.m. to midnight Friday at the Wooly Ram Round Up in the Blue Grass Community Building, as well as a hoedown at the Blue Grass Ruritan Community Building
and a Sugar Shake-Up at the Stonewall Ruritan Building in McDowell on Saturday. The second weekend features a Buckwheat Stomp on Friday and an old-fashioned square dance and a festival fling on Saturday.
Pancake and buckwheat cakes topped with maple syrup, maple-flavored doughnuts and funnel cakes, and country sausage and bacon will be served at several places throughout the area along with another Highland County specialty, Allegheny mountain trout.
All festival activities are free except for food and the evening dances. For information, call (703) 468-2550.
Maryland ranks 10th in the nation for maple sugar production. Most of it is produced in Garrett and Allegany counties, but Frederick County also has several operations. Next weekend syrup-making demonstrations will be held in Garrett County at Herrington Manor and Swallow Falls State Parks outside of Oakland and in Frederick County at Cunningham Falls State Park near Thurmont.