Sternwheel Festival opens for its three-day run

The crowd of Marietta visitors grows despite gray clouds overhead Friday during the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

MARIETTA — Even in its 43rd year, the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival still welcomed some newcomers to the annual riverfront event as it kicked off on Friday.

The Ohio Arrows, a northeast Ohio RV club, ventured down for the weekend for their first experience of the paddleboat festival.

The festival celebrates the Ohio River’s history of paddle boat travel and commerce. Every year music, street vendors and boat races conclude the summer festival season for Marietta.

“Why do they call them sternwheelers again?” asked Gloria Woronka, a member of the Arrows, between the group’s jokes and laughter.

“Because the back of the boat is a stern and that’s where the wheel is,” replied her husband, John Woronka.

Bev and Steve Pottmeyer open the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival at the Ohio River levee Friday. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

And despite the impending rain, and strikes of lightning on the horizon, there was still a growing crowd Friday night.

“Weather won’t stop this group from having a great time,” John added as they listened to the music on the levee.

But weather may stop some this weekend. The forecast is calling for heavy rain late tonight through Sunday, with the potential for flash flooding. Up to an inch is expected tonight with 1 to 2 inches of rain possible Sunday, the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon.

“We had a lot of folks call the visitor center and some folks did say they were going to cancel their reservations at the hotels because of the rain, but we were telling them the fireworks still go rain or shine (on Saturday),” said Deana Clarke, executive director of the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau as she ventured down to the Ohio River levee to see the new memorial plaque revealed during opening ceremonies.

The plaque, pressed by Marietta’s Sewah Studios, was revealed in memoriam of prior Sternwheel Committee members, including David Salzman, a longtime member of the committee who passed away last year.

Max McCabe, right, and Miles Young, left, make lemon shakes for the Marietta Tigers Friday during the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

“We have had so many people who have dedicated so much time to this festival and David had donated money to the festival when he passed,” said Jeanne Wetz-Elswick, one of the committee members who unveiled the sign Friday. “We wanted to honor him and all of those who have put so much work into this.”

The marker is a permanent fixture on the levee sitting on Ohio Street, above the concrete Marietta sign in front of Kreamy Kreations.

Elswick said her role for the last 28 years has been on the entertainment package for the festival and she’s hoping that the rain doesn’t drive crowds away from enjoying the lineup.

“We really have a great selection, something for everybody,” she said. “Plus Chris Lane is really such a nice guy.”

Lane is a country performer who was part of the lineup Friday night with hits “I Don’t Know About You” and “Take Back Home Girl.”

Members of the Marine Corps League gather in awe of the memorial plaque erected for the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival Friday on the Ohio River levee. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Entertainment opened up with Steve and Bev Pottmeyer on the entertainment barge with songs by Tanya Tucker and Bev noting her husband had been around for practically all of the sternwheel festivals.

Another to make its first appearance at the festival though was the food truck from Lisa’s Sweet Stop.

“The weather is what it is, but we have 5,000 cupcakes for the weekend and a total of 6,000 items including brownies, cheesecake, cookies, pepperoni rolls, hand pies and so far it’s been well received,” said Lisa Huck, of Beverly. “Everyone has been so nice to us and we got a really great spot plus I got to meet (singer) Cash Campbell, he was so nice!”

Young cross country runners Max McCabe, 12, of Marietta, and Miles Young, 13, of Marietta, landed their turns shaking lemons under the Marietta Tigers tent Friday.

“I wanted to come down and help my team,” noted McCabe before getting back to work.