SMITHFIELD - Organizers of the fourth annual Friendship Park Wine and Food Festival almost canceled this year's event.
"But," said Friendship Park Commission Chairman Roger Hilty, "once the word got out we were pulling the plus several people stepped forward to offer financial support and I am glad we changed our minds. It has been an absolutely beautiful weekend and we saw a good crowd Friday night and an even bigger crowd Saturday. And I was getting phone calls from people out of the area Saturday morning who were asking for directions to the festival."
"It is tough to run an event like this without sponsors. We had a couple out-of-town sponsors drop out after last year and that's when we gave serious thought to pulling the plug in March. In fact I had decided we just couldn't continue the festival this year. But M & M True Value Hardware in Steubenville heard about our need for sponsors and teamed up with Husqvarna to become our major sponsors. Their support brought in additional sponsors and we decided we could do this again," Hilty explained.
WINE AND FOOD FESTIVAL — Volunteers at the fourth annual Friendship Park Wine and Food Festival lined up to welcome visitors to Rock Point Saturday afternoon. Taking part in the greetings were, from left, Paul Sweeney, Tammy Sweeney, Beverly Mayhew, Gretchen Yassens and Roger Hilty. Hilty said the beautiful weather and the vendors brought hundreds of visitors to the festival Friday and Saturday. — Dave Gossett
"In fact we are already making plans for next year because I have had two more wineries indicate their interest in coming to the festival next year. We have not only been successful this year but we are growing next year," Hilty added.
"We have been blessed with fantastic weather this year. Our Friendship Wine and Food Festival is set for Sept. 5 and 6 next year. And we are also looking for new sponsors next year to join us. That's the key to making the festival a reality every year. We are also looking for musicians to perform at next year's festival and are open to new artisans joining us," said Hilty.
The Friendship Park Wine and Food Festival was developed four years ago by the park commission to bring attention to the area.
"We are always looking for something new to attract people to Friendship Park. This is a beautiful area but a lot of people in our own county really aren't aware of what we have to offer here. We are planning to create a nine hole disc golf course in the park and are looking at kayaking on the lake," Hilty said.
Wineries participating in the festival included the Black Sheep Vineyard of Adena; Myrddin Winery of Berlin Center, Ohio; It's Your Winery of Akron, the Bluebird Winery of Malvern, Ohio; and Raven's Glenn Winery of West Lafayette, Ohio.
"This year we also have a chainsaw artist who creates different pieces of art from a piece of wood using only his chainsaw. And most important of all we have a beautiful area near the lake where people can relax, taste some wine, eat some very good food, enjoy the music and maybe take home some original art," Hilty pointed out.
"We are also looking for more people interested in putting this festival together next year. We have a 17-member committee but we need more volunteers.
June Hyre and Hazel Freeman of Misty Mountain Estates in Monroe County were first time vendors at this year's festival.
"We offer homemade gourmet herb blends, Ohio maple syrup and honey as well as wine jelly. We travel to a lot of different festivals but decided this year we would support a local festival and come here. We had a very good Friday evening crowd and Saturday was also good. And this is an absolutely wonderful location next to the lake," declared Hyre.
It was also the first year for Suzan and Joe Kovaleski of Buena Vista Honey Farms in Steubenville.
"Roger Hilty has been after us to come here since the Wine and Food Festival started four years ago. But it was always the same time as a different fair. But this year we decided to stay closer to home and join this festival. We had a good crowd here Friday evening and today looks very promising. This is great weather for a festival and for the honey bees to do their work storing up nectar for the winter. You couldn't ask for a better day," stated Joe Kovaleski.
All proceeds from the festival go toward the operation of Friendship Park along with subsidizing youth activities within the park.