Sternwheel Festival closes after weekend of great weather

Photo by Doug Loyer Sternwheelers line up on the Marietta shoreline.

The 44th annual Ohio River Sternwheel Festival concluded Sunday with a third straight day of beautiful weather for thousands of people to enjoy sitting on the banks of the river and enjoying a variety of music, see the sternwheelers lined up on shore and savor the festival food.

Festival-goers on Sunday also got to see sternwheel races and the 22nd annual Ohio River Sternwheel Rollin’ Oldies Car Club Car Show on Second Street that showcased over 400 cars.

The Ohio River Sternwheel Festival is free to the public and is always the weekend after Labor Day. Its goal is to encourage tourism in the Marietta area and to preserve river boat heritage.

“We had great weather, great attendance and amazing fireworks Saturday night,” said Cindy Hall, Director General of this year’s festival. “We’re very pleased with this weekend.”

Cheri Seevers, Festival Corporate Finance Chairman and 30-year committee member, said the festival is truly a community effort.

“Our local merchants and community donate and contribute so much for the festival to be successful,” she said. “Some businesses have been sponsors since the very first festival.”

One of the popular events during festival weekend remains the Harry J. Robinson Memorial Fireworks on Saturday night. This year the fireworks were set off with music by Queen and songs with a river theme.

Along with thousands of people watching the fireworks along the river banks and 24 sternwheelers, there was a large number of pleasure boats on the Ohio and Muskingum rivers.

“We really enjoyed the sternwheel festival fireworks,” said Joni Fox, of Powhatan Point, who attended with her husband Tom. “With the sternwheelers in the background and the colors … it was just so descriptive. When the flag came down, everyone stood up.”

“This is our third time coming here,” added Tom. “We are also car lovers and we got to see that as well. Everything was here for us … the boats, the music and cars.”

Kris and Brian Mathers, of Murray City, also loved the fireworks.

“The sternwheel festival fireworks last night were absolutely gorgeous,” said Kris, who lived in Marietta 30 years ago. “I am originally from here and we usually come back here two or three times each summer. I don’t think you appreciate this when you live here.”

Brian added that the festival was a good time.

“I like being around the water,” he said. “I could just sit here and watch the barges all day.”

The car show has grown like the festival has. Originally started by Garold Greenlees, this year’s show had 17 sponsors and profits will go toward animal shelters in Washington and Wood counties.

Gary Paschen, vice president of the car club, said over 400 cars and trucks came from a four -state area including Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Vehicles included classics, customs and hot rods.

Loren Bowen, of Middletown, Pa., grew up in Marietta and likes to come back to visit family and attend to the sternwheel festival. This year he brought a 1961 Morris Minor car with him that he spent over a year working on to put in the car show.

“The Morris Minor is a British car,” said Bowen. “It’s kind of like England’s VW bug.”

Topping off Sunday were the sternwheel races.

“We’ve been coming to this festival since 2004,” said Tom Faris, owner of the Faris Wheel, who was captaining one of the boats in the races. He traveled 100 miles from Gallipolis to be at the festival.

Another contestant in the race was the 62-foot-long and 22-foot-wide Travis Lee, captained by David Martin of Gallipolis.

“This is my first time here,” admitted Martin. “I’ve only had this boat about three months. We fell in love with the boat and it was a no-brainer. This boat is named the Travis Lee after my late son. Our first trip here has been a lot of fun. We are very impressed with Marietta.”

Martin and his wife started back in 1979 with a small boat. They kept getting bigger and bigger and this is as big as they’re going to get, he said.

Winners of this year’s four sternwheel races were the Henny Cook, the Donna Rae, the MV Dresden Belle and the P.A. Denny.