The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

October 10, 2010

Pride of the county ...

Area welcomes visitors to Covered Bridge Festival

An estimated 75 percent of visitors to the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival are from out of town, according to Betty Morrison executive director of the festival.

As Amy Gillett of Raleigh, N.C., focused her  picture of Bob Hoffman of Medina, N.Y., at the Harpersfield Covered Bridge it became clear that the festival is a major league drawing card.

“I’m shooting (photographing) all 17 covered bridges,” Hoffman said. He has been touring Ohio for the last week taking pictures of covered

bridges in three different counties.

“I’ve been doing it for 30 years,” Hoffman said of his photography work that started with lighthouses and has moved on to covered bridges.

Many people have been making their way to Ashtabula County during the start of the fall season, Morrison said. She said numerous motor coach tours have been making stops in Ashtabula County and more are expected in the next several weeks.

All of these trips are eating at local establishments while many tourists are traveling on their own and using area hotels.

Finding the exact amount of people attending the festival is a little like searching for a needle in a hay stack. “The only place we can really track (attendance) is by paid admission (at the fairgrounds),” Morrison said while preparing for a dedication for a new pavilion adjacent to the Smolen-Gulf Covered Bridge in Plymouth Township.

The dedication ceremony was just one of many events that occurred at all 17 bridges and the fairgrounds.

The new pavilion dedication completed a volunteer project that created an information kiosk where people can sit and enjoy the longest covered bridge in the United States.

“We have talked to visitors from so many states from California, Florida, New York, Minnesota, Texas, Indiana, Michigan and this week along there were people from Utah and Maine,” said Mike Wayman, chairman of the Ashtabula Township Park Commission.

“There are tourists coming to this county and the goal is to show them more of Ashtabula (County) and what it offers,” Wayman said.

The pavilion has an information kiosk complete with maps and explanations of what the area has to offer.

Skip Craine of Harpersfield Township has been creating a 1780s Indian camp complete with a 14 foot tent for 19 years. He said he does a lot of research concerning American Indians during the late 1700s.

“I haven’t been stumped in a few years,” Craine said.

The Covered Bridge Festival parade kicked off the festival late Saturday morning in Jefferson ending at the fairgrounds around 11 a.m. “We are doing good,” said office manager Julie Miller immediately following the parade.

“We work all year long to get this ready,” Miller said. She said a variety of musical groups were performing this weekend including the Geauga Highlanders.

“We have a wonderful line-up of events,” she said.

The festival continues today with a variety of options including a small engine display, a Civil War Encampment and a variety of musical opportunities.

Morrison said all 17 bridges have some kind of program this year.

Marion Peck coordinates the activities at the Benetka Road Covered Bridge as a labor of love. She said she has been working with the festival for 22 years and is drawn to the experience because of her family history.

“My grandfather, James Benetka, came here (Sheffield Township) when he was one year old (in 1897),” Peck said.

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