RICHHILL – It was the perfect fall weather Saturday to sport some flannel, a cowboy hat and boots, and listen to bluegrass music while drinking apple cider outdoors.
And that’s exactly what residents did at the Outdoor Heritage Festival at Ryerson Station State Park in Richhill Township.
“Honestly, this is just a great way to get people to come to the park and socialize with their neighbors,” said Alan Johnson, park manager.
Johnson said the festival began seven years ago as a celebration of National Hunting and Fishing Days the last weekend in September. However, he said they had a hard time securing vendors for that week, so they moved it up a few weeks and changed it to the Outdoor Heritage Festival.
New this year was a live bluegrass band known as the Mon Valley Pickers. Ruth Schambura, of Pittsburgh, is the fiddler for the five-member band who played during the morning hours of the festival. She called the country, fall festival “down-home.”
“It’s a beautiful park,” she said. “It was cozy, just like you were playing for your friends in the backyard.”
Also new this year was a presentation from the National Aviary of Pittsburgh. Caitlin Stone, an education specialist with the aviary, and Gail Newton, a volunteer educator, brought two special guests to the festival – a male spectacled owl named Franklin and a female Eurasian eagle-owl named Pumpkin.
Stone and Newton wore thick leather gloves for the birds to perch on while they gave a presentation about owls and other birds of prey. They talked about owls’ eyesight, hearing and swiveling necks and how they can fly silently to sneak up on their prey.
Several community members attended the presentation, including one small pug dog, at whom the owls frequently glared. People asked questions about owls that may be found in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and children took pictures with Pumpkin.
The festival had about 15 to 20 vendors, including homemade pies, soaps and apple cider.
Kayla and Zack Patton of Graysville brought buckets of apples and their apple press to make fresh cider for people to try.
“We picked 27 five-gallon buckets of apples yesterday from trees in Waynesburg and the West Greene areas,” Kayla said.
Zack said they got the press for Christmas four years ago and have been bringing it to the festival.
Johnson said the festival is funded through Friends of Ryerson Station State Park, a group that raises money and secures grants to make improvements to the park.