The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 14, 2012

Eighteen treasures

Ashtabula County celebrates covered bridges with festival

Star Beacon

— Fall foliage, chilly temperatures and a healthy parade all put people in the mood to celebrate ... covered bridges.

“This year we are going to take a picture of every bridge,” said Diane Fitch of Parma. Diane has roots in Ashtabula County and enjoys visiting the bridges with her husband.

“We just love the covered bridges,” Tom said while preparing to visit the Netcher Road Covered Bridge. He was a bit dubious about whether they will make it to all of the bridges.

“We get tired about 2 p.m.,” he said with a laugh during the early morning visit in Jefferson Township.

Similar scenes were played out throughout Ashtabula County’s 18 covered bridges Saturday and will continue today as visitors and area residents take time to drive through area bridges and enjoy the fall foliage.

Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival organizers attempt to draw people to the festival headquarters at the county fairgrounds in Jefferson.

ACCBF Director Connie Bayt said the committee is always looking at ways to draw visitors to the fairgrounds.

“We are doing a geo-cache (complete with prizes) to get people from the bridges to the fairgrounds,” Bayt said. She said there is no way to accurately determine how many bridge visitors go to the fairgrounds, but she estimates about 25 percent of bridge visitors end up in Jefferson.

Bayt said kiddy rides and a mom and child craft program are expected to draw more people to the fairgrounds in addition to a variety of entertainment options including a concert today by Dennis Ford.

Visitors lined the main road through the fairgrounds for the festival’s annual parade that started at Jefferson High School and wound its way through town to the fairgrounds.

Early morning temperatures in the low 30s didn’t seem to break the spirit of festival organizers or visitors. “We are all a little cold, but our vendors got here on time,” Bayt said.

John Fogle IV, 9, of Andover, came with family to continue a tradition, but the chilly weather got his attention. “We are going to find the hot chocolate,” he said with a smile.

An antique engine exhibit lined the parade route and will be available for review today as well.

“This is my third year. It is just great (the festival) you have a big crowd here. A lot of these engines are a hundred years old,” said David Hill of Jamestown, Pa.

Bicyclists and motorcyclists also take advantage of the festival weekend to experience northeastern Ohio in its fall finest.

“We’re doing 35 miles to six of the bridges and Brant’s (apple orchard),” said Nancy Vallen of Ashtabula. She said bicycling clubs from Ashtabula and Conneaut organize the ride and send out promotional material.

“We try to change the route up every year,” said Shane Brown of Conneaut who helps organize the event.

Barb Signar, of Jefferson Health Care Center, works at the Netcher Road Covered Bridge every year. “I love the bridges, the sun the fine fall foliage. We get a lot of people,” she said.

One of her most vivid memories of the event is the sound of motorcycle engines resounding loudly as they drive through the bridge. “We get large groups (of bikers),” she said.

Robin Ferrill, of Atlanta, grew up on Harmon Road in North Kingsville, graduated from Edgewood High School and organizes her visit home around the festival.

“It’s just fun to come home and visit family and drive around and see the bridges,” she said.

Debbie Friedstrom, a Plymouth Township trustee and pumpkin farmer, said her nieces from Conneaut spend the night and help her bring the pumpkins to the Smolen Covered Bridge site.

“I grow the pumpkins and haul them out here,” she said.

Jessica and Emily Mannion seemed to enjoy the experience.

Jessica said she enjoys helping with the pumpkins, but the highlight of the experiences is “I get to spend the night at my aunt’s (house).”

Friedstrom said she loves meeting people at the festival.

“I’ve talked to people from California, Minnesota and Maine and they are in awe of our area. It’s almost like we don’t appreciate what we have,” she said.