Enthusiasts busy as bees at West Virginia State Honey Festival

Seven-year-old Isis Way, right, who wants to be a beekeeper, helps Steve Conlon of Thistledew Farm with his “bee beard” demonstration on Sunday afternoon the 2019 West Virginia State Honey Festival at City Park in Parkersburg. (Photo Provided)

PARKERSBURG — For a second day, City Park was abuzz with all things bees and honey Sunday during the 2019 West Virginia State Honey Festival.

Hundreds of people came to City Park and the pavilion for crafts, vendors, concessions, entertainment and other activities on Saturday and Sunday.

This year’s honey festival was a week earlier than usual to accommodate one of its primary partners, the Mid-Ohio Valley Beekeepers Association, said Vickie Marshall, executive director of the Wood County Recreation Commission for which the honey festival is a fundraiser.

Marshall said it was a good weekend for the event. About 2,000 people visited the festival Saturday and she hoped to have a good crowd though the day on Sunday. Plans are already being made for next year’s honey festival, which will remain on its new dates on the third weekend of August, she said.

This is a busy time of the year for Marshall and the recreation commission. In addition to fall youth sports programs, they also work on the honey festival — now finished for another year — while also preparing for the Harvest Moon Arts and Crafts Festival on the third weekend of September.

The Mid-Ohio Valley Beekeepers Association was present to provide information and educational materials to visitors at the 2019 West Virginia State Honey Festival at City Park on Saturday and Sunday. (Photo by Wayne Towner)

While both festivals help support the recreation commission’s programs, Marshall said the upcoming Harvest Moon is the largest fundraiser of the year for the commission’s programs.

Kenny Bach, president of the Mid-Ohio Valley Beekeepers Association, said interest remains high among people who come out to the honey festival each year and those making their first visits.

“We try to keep the kids interested as much as we can and a lot of the parents have interest. A lot of people would like to get into beekeeping and don’t know how to get started,” he said.

Organizations like the MOVBA can help provide information and support for those considering such a hobby, Bach said. He recommends obtaining information and education about beekeeping and finding a mentor who is experienced.

For several years, a concern among beekeepers and others involved in food production has been the loss of beehives and bees that have died off.

Steve Conlon with Thistledew Farm gives a “bee beard” demonstration Sunday at the 2019 West Virginia State Honey Festival at City Park in Parkersburg. The demonstration is a popular attraction at the festival each year. (Photo by Wayne Towner)

Bach said that has been a subject of study since it began and some possible positive news was found about three years ago. Researchers found that a parasite which attacks honeybees may have been affecting them in a different and possibly more harmful way by damaging their ability to filter out the toxins in their environment., he said.

More study is being done to find a way to address the parasite problem without causing harm to the host bees, Bach said. There is still more work to be done but it’s a hopeful sign, he said.

Steve Conlon, with ThistleDew Farm, has been coming to the honey festival for about 30 years to sell honey and honey products and to give his popular “bee beard” demonstrations in the City Park Pavilion. Twice on Saturday and Sunday, Conlon entered a mesh tent, tied a small cage with a queen bee to his chin and allowed young honeybees to be poured on a cardboard base held under his face.

Following their natural instincts, the honeybees gathered around the queen on Conlon’s chin to create the bee beard as he presented information and history about the honeybee to the audience.

Among the interesting facts he presents, Conlon said honeybees are not native to North America having been brought over by European settlers. He also said the queen bee is not the one in charge of the hive but is simply an egg-layer while the female worker bees are in charge of the hive’s activities.

Conlon said the educational aspect of his program is his favorite part.

“I like educating people. Through education we’re all better off. It’s a good opportunity to educate people,” he said.

Wayne Towner can be reached at wtowner@newsandsentinel.com