The Secret History of UNC Asheville’s Favorite Tradition

Monday, October 16, 2017
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It happens slowly and then all at once. The leaves of the trees on the Quad change from green to yellow to orange and red.

These colors mean only one thing: fall is coming, and so is Turning of the Maples, everyone’s favorite UNC Asheville tradition. What seems like a tradition as old as the university itself really only started a little over a decade ago with a group of students who wanted to build traditions and spirit on the UNC Asheville campus.

Brian Davis, director of events and conferences at UNC Asheville, graduated the spring before the tradition started in fall 2006. He said the mystery around the event is part of its charm.

“The first couple years I was working here, we would say, ‘Well, A.C. Reynolds himself started this tradition. He would host the faculty with cookies in October when the campus became beautiful.’ A.C. Reynolds never saw this campus to my knowledge,” Davis said. “We were never here while he was alive, to my knowledge. It’s just a little bit of mystery with that part.”

In order to continue the mystery, Davis said he does not like to announce the event more than a week before it happens. This short time also ensures the leaves will be colorful enough and the trees not yet bare, as well as the weather being favorable.

“It’s a great community building tradition, which I think is why it’s been so successful over the years and why people look forward to it so much,” Davis said. “It’s just a quick, fun getaway from the busy day of campus life.”

Although Davis has planned the event in the past, program coordinator Jessika Bond is taking over this year.

“I think the natural beauty of our campus and the location of our quadrangle encourages us to take a moment to recognize the changing of the seasons by celebrating this moment,” Bond said. “This tradition is newer, but very special. I believe that through the years this event will grow more and more as people put their hands on it.”

Both Davis and Bond have similar strategies for preparing for Turning of the Maples, the most important of which is observing the trees themselves. In order to pick a date when the colors are most vibrant, Davis and Bond head to the Quad every day.

“The change in the brilliancy of the color can change very quickly and you have to be prepared. You have to be in conversations ahead of time,” Davis said. “There’s one tree in particular on the Quad that will change colors first. It’s the maple tree closest to Rhoades-Robinson and Zeis Hall. It’s actually one of the smaller maple trees, but it will change colors the fastest.”

While the changing of the colors is a quintessential sign of fall, the free cider and cookies of Turning of the Maples draws out the campus community. Each fall, 600 maple-leaf shaped cookies are ordered for the event. Davis said the more people who participate in the event the better, as it is primarily a community building opportunity. Bond agreed, saying Turning of the Maples gives the entire campus community an opportunity to take a break from the hectic day-to-day schedule together.

“My favorite part of the event is getting all of campus together on the quad. We all have our different realms as students, faculty and staff and we are all working so hard towards similar goals. It’s nice to see one another in a non-working or studying capacity,” Bond said. “Taking a breath once in a while is important.”

Turning of the Maples 2017 will be Thursday Oct. 19th from 12-1:20 p.m.