Fireworks light sky over Sternwheel Festival

MARIETTA – Thousands of people filled downtown Marietta on Saturday afternoon as they enjoyed the food, looked through vendor stands and enjoyed the live music during the 38th annual Ohio River Sternwheel Festival, which began Friday and concludes today.

“I grew up in Marietta and never miss a Sternwheel Festival,” said Colleen Matthews of Marietta. “I have to be a part of it.”

Matthews was in the 200 block of Greene Street watching her son, Gage Matthews, 5, play on the inflatables on Saturday afternoon.

“He remembered the festival and inflatables and asked to come downtown,” she said. “I was surprised and a little proud he wanted to go to Sternwheel.”

While there are thousands of people like Matthews who have and will attend this year’s festival, for others, Saturday was their first experience at the event.

Scott Bain brought his stepdaughter Jayna Noonkester, 8, both of Follansbee, W.Va., to the event after his mother and sister suggested it during a family visit.

“My mother and sister live in Churchtown and they said we should come to this festival,” Bain said. “We love it! The food is good, entertainment is good and the weather is beautiful.”

Katelyn Fletcher, of Grantsville, W.Va., spent Saturday with her family listening to the music and walking through the kids’ area, watching her children have their faces painted.

“I’m from Florida and have only lived in West Virginia a little while and this is my first Sternwheel Festival,” Fletcher said. “It is perfect for the kids and a really awesome experience.

“The only bad part is we aren’t able to stay for the fireworks, which I have heard are great,” she added.

Jon Coppernoll, president of the Sternwheel Festival Committee, said the committee expected between 80,000 and 100,000 people to fill the levee and Harmar Village locations for the annual Harry J. Robinson Fireworks Show, which took place at 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

“Around 3 p.m. the area began to fill up and the crowd is gathering for the fireworks,” Coppernoll said. “That’s what most people come here for and with a few new shells going off this year, we hope we can make a lot of people smile.”

By 4 p.m., thousands of blankets and camp chairs were manned and unmanned while set up along the Ohio River Levee as people had found their prime locations to watch the fireworks go off over the dozens of sternwheel boats docked along the river’s edge.

As the fireworks display started, there was standing room only on the levee with every flat surface covered with spectators.

“Friday and Saturday have been good and I hope (today) is as great,” Coppernoll said.

The final day of the festival will begin with the sunrise service at 8 a.m. and a car show on Butler Street beginning at 9 a.m. The 100 and 200 blocks of Butler Street will be closed Sunday for the cars.

Earlier Saturday evening, between performances by various bands on the entertainment barge, Sternwheel officials held the coronation for this year’s pageant winner at 7 p.m.

The pageant was held Aug. 24, but the winner wasn’t announced until Saturday. This year’s Queen Genevieve was Rachael McGoron, 19, of Marietta.