BLAIRSVILLE — It’s not uncommon for a community festival to celebrate a much-loved crop, say, pumpkins, or apples. Those at the Blairsville Community Development Authority, however, have taken a different approach, naming an upcoming event for an unwanted and invasive species.
Though its name may suggest otherwise, Blairsville’s inaugural Knotweed Festival will not pay homage to the pesky plant, which is notorious for overtaking railways and riverbanks.
Instead, the BCDA aims to bring together the community to both celebrate borough assets and share Japanese knotweed control information.
The festival runs 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. Most activities will be happening in and around the borough’s bandstand and the Blairsville Riverfront Trail trailhead.
Just a few scheduled activities are Indiana County Conservation District rain barrel workshops, a rock stacking contest and a tour led by the Historical Society of the Blairsville Area.
Five bands, some from the area and some from out-of-state, will perform. The lineup includes Anthony Frazier, the Blairsville Community Band, Dark Horse, Jerry B. and the Bone Tones, and The Devious Angels.
The event will feature food booths as well as arts and craft vendors. The goal of the BCDA was to bring the bulk of those selling food or other items from organizations within the borough, according to Carol Persichetti, festival chairman.
“We have a variety of vendors,” she said. “And what is very nice, we encourage community involvement.”
Foods on the menu range from festival fare like hot dogs and funnel cake to ethnic items such as gyros and pirogies.
Borough churches, the Blairsville Volunteer Fire Department and a resident raising money for a mission trip are some of the roughly 30 vendors who will be there. Proceeds from the vendors’ sales will benefit their respective organizations.
Whether between river trail scavenger hunts, after checking out Guatemalan crafts or before picking a lucky duck for the evening’s rubber duck race, attendees will be able to learn about the fast-growing weed that gives the festival its name.
The event will feature educational knotweed displays courtesy of the Conemaugh Valley Conservancy.
“Our intention here is to raise awareness,” said Leann Chaney, BCDA executive director.
Near-impossible to eradicate, Japanese knotweed has been a nuisance for many communities, especially river towns like Blairsville.
Recognizable by tall, bamboo-like stalks and large, heart-shaped leaves, Japanese knotweed often chokes out native species and interferes with waterway access.
“When you don’t see the river,” said Chaney, “you don’t feel connected to it, and you don’t appreciate it.”
County parks staff, along with volunteers, have been able to keep knotweed to a minimum in areas where there are benches and views of the Conemaugh River, according to Persichetti.
But, she said, “it is very hard to get rid of — therein lies the problem.”
Organizers hope the festival will increase knotweed knowledge and encourage some to join the ranks of volunteers who help manage its growth.
“There are measures you can take to kind of keep it under control,” Chaney said.
Efforts to do so typically include a combination of cutting down plant stalks and applying herbicide, according to information from the Penn State Extension website.
Awareness of knotweed in the borough is already on the rise, Persichetti said, as more people walk along the Blairsville Riverfront Trail, which opened last year.
While a name that gives a nod to the knotweed problem may seem silly to some, it doesn’t to Joy Fairbanks.
“It just makes more people complain and pay attention. It’s funny,” said the retired art teacher who will lead several festival activities.
“At least it is getting some lip service.”
A WELCOME DEVELOPMENT
Unlike its namesake, the festival is a welcome development in the borough.
“People are looking forward to another event to bring them downtown and let them meet with their friends,” Persichetti said. “They’re just excited that there’s another festival in town.”
The most recent community celebration, the Diamond Days Festival, was held about four years ago, she said.
With ongoing efforts to revitalize the borough bearing fruit, the time seems right to celebrate in Blairsville.
“We thought that we would want to have a fun community event that would highlight our new trail that was dedicated last year and highlight some of the refurbishment of our bandstand,” Persichetti said.
In addition to recognizing recent achievements, festival happenings will also draw from the past.
One event in particular will touch upon local history. Blairsville’s Underground Railroad Group will lead a “High Noon History Tour.” That event will incorporate landmarks and events relating to the Civil War era.
The Historical Society of the Blairsville Area museum and gift shop will also be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. St. Peter’s Episcopal church will host a quilt show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In addition to showcasing favorite Blairsville landmarks and organizations, the festival has ties to nature, too. Those include not only the Knotweed-related displays, but also do-it-yourself birdhouse instructions and rain barrel workshops. The latter will be led by educators from the Indiana County Conversation District.
Fairbanks will lead a rock stacking contest. There, participants will be challenged to pile river rocks in a creative way. She also will lead a “fish printing” craft. Festival goers can cover a fish stamp with ink and transfer its image to rice paper or muslin cloth.
For her, the many-faceted festival is one that offers more than just a day of fun.
“Maybe there will be a renewed effort because the community once again becomes involved. (Residents) look for something that pulls communities together,” she said. “That’s what festivals do.”