The 2010 Ohio River Sternwheel Festival officially begins at 6 p.m. today, and organizers expect this year's event will be a real crowd-pleaser.
"It's tough to estimate how many people will be here over the weekend," said Dave Salzman, the festival's director general.
"This is a free event and there are so many people who gather along the Ohio River levee, on the river banks in Harmar, and across the river in Williamstown, but we believe somewhere between 85,000 and 100,000 people will attend this year," he said.
On Thursday Salzman, who has been involved with the event for 27 years now, said last-minute preparations were ahead of schedule.
"Things have been going well, and we haven't had a lot of major issues," he said. "This is our 35th year and we've been working hard to put together a great event."
Salzman said a host of volunteers make the festival happen, including some from area labor organizations.
5 things to know about the Sternwheel festival:
1. Opening ceremonies are at 6 p.m. today. Local musicians Steve and Bev Pottmeyer kick off the entertainment at 7 p.m., followed by Columbus-based Phil Dirt and the Dozers at 8 and "America's Got Talent" season four winner Kevin Skinner at 9:30.
2. Tours of the USS LST-325, which participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944, are being offered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Tuesday. The cost is $10 a person or $20 for immediate family.
3. Saturday's main attraction - the Harry J. Robinson Fireworks Display - will feature pyrotechnics launched from the Williamstown Bridge as well as the Ohio River. That means extra visual flare and some additional delays, as the bridge will be closed to pedestrian traffic beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday.
4. Sunday's sternwheel races are a throwback to the Steamboat Era of the 1840s to the early 1900s, when steamboats were a major transportation source for moving people and goods. The steamboat races of those days were the main form of advertising a boat's speed.
5. The cost for admission to most festival events - free.
Coverage of the festival's opening night.
Origins of sternwheelers' names.
The festival's economic impact.
A look back at an unusual Sternwheel Festival proposal.
Bryan Nichols with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 972 said for the last 15 years union workers have volunteered to help provide electricity for vendors at the Sternwheel Festival.
"A supervisor, four or five journeymen, and apprentices go down every year," he said. "The vendors bring their own wiring and equipment, but they're not allowed to hook into the electrical boxes, so our volunteers are there to make the connections and everything's ready when the electrical inspector comes through."
The workers spend a few hours helping with the setup Thursday night, then return Sunday to uncouple the equipment.
"The union volunteers help out a great deal, and they do a nice job every year," Salzman said, adding that vendors are especially appreciative because they don't have to worry about their connections meeting local electrical codes for the event.
R.J. Van Almen and Abby Geiselman from the Canton area were grateful for the IBEW's help with power for their Flight of the Concessions vendor trailer.
"This is our first year here, and of the 28 events we're doing this year we've been looking forward to this one the most," Van Almen said.
The annual Captains Gathering dinner was held Thursday under tents on the lawn near the corner of Fourth and Ohio streets.
Bill Pope and his father, George Pope, traveled from Sugar Creek in Holmes County to bring their "Georgie Peach" sternwheeler to the festival. Unfortunately George, 83, became ill and had to return home Wednesday, leaving co-pilot Bill in charge of the 32-foot vessel.
"He wants to come back later this weekend," Bill Pope said. "We missed being here for about five years, and he wanted to come down this year. We're always treated so well here."
Bill said his dad built the "Georgie Peach" after attending one of the early Ohio River Sternwheel Festivals in Marietta.
"He wanted to build his own sternwheeler, and he did," Bill said. "It took a couple of years, but we finally finished it in the late 1980s or early 1990s."
The Popes' sternwheeler is among 25 or more berthed along the Ohio River levee during this weekend's event.
Kristin Sampson of Waterford, crowned Queen Genevieve during the 2009 Ohio River Sternwheel Festival, welcomed the riverboat pilots to Marietta for the 2010 event.
Sampson's reign officially ends Saturday with the crowning of a new Queen Genevieve. But she's enjoyed representing the festival at various events throughout the year, and put the $1,500 in scholarship funding to good use.
"I'm currently attending The Ohio State University, majoring in strategic communications with a minor in graphic design," she said.
Another festival kickoff event was Thursday's annual Rockin' Rib Fest at the Lafayette Hotel parking lot where early festival-goers enjoyed plates of ribs and pulled pork sandwiches while enjoying rock and roll entertainment from local band Cold Shot.
"The rib fest has been sponsored by the (Marietta Area Convention and Visitors Bureau) in the past, but they decided not to do it this year, so the Lafayette has taken it over," said Sheila Rhodes, hotel general manager.
"Our guests for the Sternwheel weekend have come to expect this event, and we're seeing more people coming in on Thursday, so it's really turned out well," she said. "And it brings more people to town for an extra day."
Opening ceremonies for the 2010 Ohio River Sternwheel Festival begin at 6 p.m. today along the Ohio River levee.