Blairsville's Knotweed Festival to feature food, music, trail activities
Japanese knotweed is an invasive nuisance plant that can compete for territory with the area's native wild vegetation.
With tongue in cheek, organizers in Blairsville have taken inspiration from that notorious weed to name a new community event they hope will become an annual attraction in the town.
Blairsville's inaugural Knotweed Festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Aug. 17, with most activities located at the west end of the borough.
Carol Persichetti of Blairsville is serving as chairperson of the festival. She is also a board member of the Blairsville Community Development Authority (BCDA), which has taken the lead in planning the new event.
Persichetti is quick to point out that the Knotweed Festival is not taking the place of Blairsville's Diamond Days festival, which used to take place about the same time in August but hasn't been held in several years.
“This is not in lieu of it,” she said. “It's just another community event to get our town together.”
The Knotweed celebration is also intended to highlight Blairsville's new Riverfront Trail parallelling the Conemaugh River along with recent downtown renovations and upgrades that are now complete at the bandstand and Diamond area at West Market and Liberty streets.
“We wanted to get the people of Blairsville active in checking out the trail and the bandstand, which was painted last year and has new lights and landscaping,” Persichetti said.
The event has come together rather quickly. Talks about holding the festival began only this past April.
“There's been a lot of involvement,” Persichetti said. “I think it should bring some people in so they can hang around and have a good time.”
Local vendor booths will line West Market Street, with at least four Blairsville-area churches represented along with the fire department and various health organizations. Visitors browsing among the booths will find everything from Guatemalan crafts and handmade soap to a dime toss, caricatures and health screenings.
The Historical Society of the Blairsville Area, the Blairsville Underground Railroad historical group and All That Jazz dance studio are planning activities.
“We tried to make it a community event where community members were involved and able to make themselves known to the general public and do some fundraising for themselves,” Persichetti said.
A variety of food will be on hand, including a preview of the German feast the Hebron Lutheran Church has planned for its Octoberfest on Oct. 5.
“We have lots of different kinds of food, everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to homemade lemonade,” Persichetti said.
Other festival fare will include funnel cakes, walking tacos, gyros, freeze pop giveaways and free bottled water.
Educational events also abound at the Knotweed Festival. Those interested in learning the basics of canoeing without actually taking to the water may want to check out kayak demonstrations that will be conducted several times during the day by Mark Shank at the boat launch area just north of the Bairdstown Bridge. Do-it-yourself birdhouse information also will be available.
Bob Sagely will lead nature walks on the Riverfront Trail that will acquaint participants with local history as well as species of trees and plants that are found in the area.
The trail also will be the setting for several scavenger hunts for children. Youngsters will search for natural items such as a smooth stone or a piece of bark.
The walks and the scavenger hunts will start at the Water Street trailhead located south of the Bairdstown Bridge.
Rain barrel workshops will demonstrate how to safely use these eco-friendly water-catchers. Five rain barrels will be given away at each of the two workshops planned, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Barrels also will be available to purchase.
The Indiana County Conservation District is conducting the workshops, which stress how collecting rain water that would otherwise end up in storm sewers can help improve water quality.
The Blairsville Underground Railroad group is offering “History at High Noon,” a guided walk that will highlight historic happenings and sites in town. Participants will encounter costumed character's from the community's past including individuals from the 19th century who were active in opposition to slavery. The tour will begin at noon at the S&T Bank on East Market Street.
Registration is under way for a pet parade that will begin at 10 a.m. at the BCDA parking lot. Participants are asked to assemble at 9:45 a.m. Those interested can sign up at Blairsville Pharmacy. There is no theme for the parade, but prizes will be given out in several categories. Animals must be leashed or in a carrier.
Several art activities are set to take place from 2 to 6 p.m. along Market Street, including creation of fish prints. Artificial fish skins are pressed into ink and then onto muslin cloth to create a wall hanging.
Persichetti said fish prints are an ancient art form. Also known as Gyo Taku, it originated in Japan as a way of recording trophy catches prior to the modern-day camera.
Local artist Joy Fairbanks, who is also a member of the BCDA, said inclusion of the prints in the festival reflects the fact that fish can now be found in more abundance in the Conemaugh River.
Rubber fish will be used in the fish prints, which Fairbanks said is meant to be a “fun activity that the kids and adults can get involved with.”
Another unusual art form that will be represented at the festival is rock stacking.
BCDA Executive Director Leann Chaney said rocks will be provided for a contest at the BCDA booth with the goal of creating a decorative stack of rocks.
“It is an art, practiced throughout the country — probably throughout the world,” said Chaney.
The activity is an extension of a recently formed group, Blairsville Rocks.
Fairbanks, who is a member of that group, said she's seen many forms of rock stacks in her various travels. They are thought to have originated with Native Americans as a means of leaving directions or marking a site.
“But now it's become a kind of art form,” Fairbanks said.
Blairsville Rocks, which also organized a recent rock-painting contest, is meant to link art and the community. The name is also a play on words signaling that Blairsville is a vibrant place.
“It's more than just rocks — (Blairsville) is still alive, still in tune with things,” Fairbanks said. “It's indicating that things are happening here.”
Some of the other activities people will be able to find at the Knotweed Festival include a remote-control plane demonstration by Ray Elrick, story times, a battle of the barrels by the Blairsville Volunteer Fire Department, and face painting.
A duck race raffle is planned by the BCDA. Ducks will be sold for $1 each and will be dropped over the side of the Bairdstown Bridge that evening. The person's whose duck crosses the finish line first will win half the proceeds of the raffle.
Several bands and musicians will provide entertainment at the bandstand throughout the day — Anthony Frazier, Dark Horse, Jerry B and the Bone Tones, and The Devious Angels.
St. Peter's Episcopal Church at 38 W. Campbell St. will play host to a quilt show and will have refreshments on hand. The Historical Society of the Blairsville Area will offer tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at its museum at 116 E. Campbell St.
The Blairsville Elks at 60 E. Campbell St. will serve a dinner at 5:30 p.m. followed by live music from Johnny Cash tribute band Ole 97, at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $25 for both the meal and music, $5 for just the band.
Most of the day's events will take place along West Market Street, between Liberty and Spring streets near the Diamond.
“We're trying to keep all of the events and vendors close to the bandstand,” Persichetti said.
One of the final events of the evening will be lighting of the bandstand on the Diamond at 7:45 p.m. The ceremony will showcase new lights that were recently installed thanks to a donation by the Blairsville Rotary.
Persichetti noted that the BCDA is still looking for sponsors for the one-day festival.
“These events definitely cost more than you think to put on,” she said. “It's not a fundraiser for us. It's just a fun event for the community.”
She said the BCDA is also accepting donations to help purchase flowers planted downtown in streetscape pots and around the bandstand.
“It's very community-focused,” said Chaney. “We're just looking forward to the community coming together to pull off the festival and having a good day.”
“It's nice to see that so many people do want to get involved in highlighting our town,” Persichetti said.
For more information, contact the BCDA at 724-459-8588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or email@example.com.