Rain chills, but doesn’t spoil, Covered Bridge Festival

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Perpetual rain was threatening to transform it into the Run for Cover Bridge Festival.


“We almost always have good weather,” Lynne Loresch said Saturday afternoon, during the opening of the 43rd annual Covered Bridge Festival. The two-day event, celebrating 10 covered bridges in Washington and Greene counties, will conclude today with arts, crafts, flowers, food, train rides and other offerings near each span from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


The lengthy, dreary downpour throughout the region did reduce the quantity of festivalgoers, and likely the quality of their revelry. Diane Clark of Wind Ridge, one of the organizers of festivities at Henry Bridge in Mingo Creek County Park, said inactivity impelled “a couple of crafters to pack up and leave” by noon.


Still, there were enough patrons – in rain gear with bumbershoot in hand – to energize the site, which is distanced from the bridge.


“We say rain or shine, so …” Clark said, smiling.


Loresch is executive director and Clark administrative assistant of the Mental Health Association of Washington County, which for 28 years has sponsored, planned and supervised events for Henry Bridge. They oversaw the operation there Saturday along with Mary Ann Zeitler, a parent advocate.


Loresch, who has been involved all 28 years, said the one time weather played heavy havoc was 2004, when Hurricane Ivan nearly wiped out the event.


“We held it two weeks later, and the response was incredible,” Loresch said. “People said they love the festival.”


Apparently, they love the two Mingo Creek span sites in particular. Loresch said Henry has 148 booths set up and Ebenezer around 125.


“We started near the bridge with 16 booths 28 years ago and thought we were big stuff.” Loresch said.


Clark estimated that about 20,000 annually shop, browse and eat at the Henry site.


“We get about 10,000 each of the days,” she said, “but a lot depends on the weather and when the Steelers play.”


The Steelers-Chicago Bears tussle will start at 8:20 this evening, so a drier day should auger well for organizers at the six other Washington County bridges – Brownlee (McGuffey Community Park), Krepps (Mt. Pleasant Township), McClurg (Hanover Township Park), Pine Bank (Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village), Wyit Sprowls (East Finley Township Park) and Hughes (Amwell Township) – and the two in Greene, Carmichaels and White (Garards Fort).


Precipitation didn’t dissuade Kathy Putaro of Bethel Park, who said she has been attending the festival “for at least 15 years.”


“It’s local and I like the variety and number of vendors and it is more festive. I like the whole kit and kaboodle.”


Sherwood Nursery has been a longtime vendor at Henry. “It’s been at least 20 years,” said Tara Ciaffoni, who handled transactions for the company owned by her parents, Paul and Valjean. The Ciaffonis have a farm near Canonsburg and a retail site on Route 19 in South Strabane Township.


“This is the festival where we do the best,” said Tara, who was selling an expanse of potted mums along with jellies, jams and other items.


Rain rarely deters children, who found that taking the A Train was among activities they could pursue. Paul Quast of Eighty Four runs Paul’s “A” Train, with which he provides rides.


“It’s $3 per ride, and it’s a good, decent, long ride,” said Quast, who offers the rides here and at birthday parties and other events for extra cash. He retired from the Army Corps of Engineers in 2000 after years of running a road and towing service in Eighty Four.


“I might get 100 riders a day, maybe even 130 or 140” at this festival,” Quast said.


But as of about 1 p.m. Saturday, he said he had taken the train out only four times. “That pays for my gasoline to get here and go back,” he said. “If there is no crowd shortly, I make pack my stuff and go home.”


For Loresch, the Covered Bridge Festival is a good time that enhances the Mental Health Association. Based in Washington and in existence since 1965, the association serves about 2,500 people a year countywide, according to the executive director.


“We help people of all ages deal with mental illness,” she said. “This is one of the fund-raisers that keeps our doors open, especially with this administration (of Gov. Tom Corbett). For us, it’s a craft show with a purpose,”


And one that persevered through lousy weather Saturday.


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