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Kids lend their hands at Fort Hand Festival

| Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Friends, Mikayla Lovas, back left, Elizabeth Scutt, back right, Georgia Schafer, front right, students at Kiski Area Middle School, and Ashley Botti, front left, a middle school student at Gateway, enjoy fresh Kettle Corn on while at the Fort Hand Festival in Washington Township, Sunday September 22, 2013.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Mia DeVito, 7, of Washington Township, makes a blue handprint right along side the red one her sister Gianna made and the yellow one her sister Isabella made at the Fort Hand Festival in Washington Township, Sunday September, 22, 2013.

Kids made their mark at this year's Fort Hand Festival — one they can come back to see for years to come.

As part of the weekend festival at Kunkle Park in Washington Township, Westmoreland County, kids were able to dip their hands in latex paint and press them against concrete planters near the park's playground.

The nine planters actually are concrete culverts that were turned on end, filled with dirt and topped with flowers. Meant to guard the playground from wayward cars, they were painted this summer.

Each print was dated and initialed. The youngest was the yellow footprint of a 3-week-old baby, said Susie Toman, a member of the festival committee, whose hands were covered in every color of paint being offered.

The prints will be covered with a sealant to better preserve them, Toman said.

“You can come back in a couple years and see how big your hand got,” Toman said. “It gives them ownership of the playground.”

The festival, named for the Revolutionary War-era fort that once stood in the area, went on as planned for its first day Saturday despite rain that fell most of the day. Turnout was low, but those who did come were treated to a fireworks show Saturday night, when the rain had ended.

“Like the early Fort Hand pioneers, we never say die,” Elise Glenn, a festival committee member, said Sunday. “The weather slows us down but it doesn't stop us.”

“Everyone who didn't come yesterday seems to be here today,” she said. “It's a great place to see everybody. It really is a community event.”

While some vendor spots were empty on Sunday, the Kiskiminetas Free Masons Lodge 617 stuck it out both days, selling pulled pork sandwiches, and a few umbrellas, in its first time at the festival.

“The weather hurt us pretty bad yesterday. It really put a damper on the crowd,” said Brian McCollim, the lodge's presiding officer. “We've done rather well today. It's a good day so far. The weather is beautiful.”

The festival, first held in 2002, was born in the shadow of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a way to bring the community together, said Rob Malley, a member of the township's recreation committee.

“I see people I only see here and they're neighbors,” he said.

Proceeds from the festival go toward improving Kunkle Park.

Although a boulder and plaque commemorate Fort Hand, its exact location is open to question. Built in 1777 on what was then the western frontier, it is notable for having withstood an Indian attack on April 26, 1779.

An encampment and battle re-enactment is being planned for April 26-27, the 235th anniversary of the attack.

Members of the Brigade of the American Revolution were last at the park in 2012 and were not expected to return until 2015. It was moved up in recognition of the anniversary, which happens to fall on a weekend.

Dennis Sopchack of New Kensington, a member of the group, was dressed as a Revolutionary War soldier and shared some history with festival-goers.

“Some people know a lot (of the history), some people don't know anything,” he said.

In addition to food, music and games, this year's festival featured inflatable rides for the kids, replacing carnival rides.

The handprint activity wasn't offered on Saturday because of the rain. More than 40 children had put their prints on the planters by the festival's final hours Sunday afternoon.

Pete and Missy DeVito's three daughters put their handprints together on one of the planters — Isabella, 8, was yellow; Mia, 7, was blue; and Gianna, 5, was red.

“It's cute,” Missy DeVito said. “Every time we come here, we'll have to come and look at it.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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