Chris Chmiel, the founder and organizer of the Ohio Pawpaw Festival, said his favorite part of this year’s event is not the pawpaws but rather the crowd.
“(There are) a lot of very nice people,” he said.
The began Friday and ended Sunday at Lake Snowden in Albany. The festival included music, solar-powered hayrides, craft beers and many opportunities for attendees to try the official native fruit of Ohio.
A new pawpaw costume for smaller fest-goers, a slalom kayak race and a new brewery providing a pawpaw beer were new additions to the festival this year, Chmiel added.
Terry and Ron Powell, members of the North American Pawpaw Growers Association, won this year’s competition for the biggest pawpaw with a 1.4-pound fruit. The two own a farm in Adams County and have been growing pawpaws since 2000. They work at the festival every year.
“People don’t know anything about pawpaws. You get a blank stare every time you mention the word,” Terry said. “It is so nutritional.”
She added that she loves seeing people get excited about pawpaws and try them for the first time at the festival.
“We come here to … encourage (people) to grow their own trees, because you can’t get them in the grocery store,” Terry said. "You can’t always find them in a farmers market, so why not go out in your backyard and pick your own."
Scott Thomas is also a veteran of the festival. He and his friends have been coming together to meet at Lake Snowden for the past six or seven years.
This year, he was happy to be sipping on a Smoked Pawpaw Ale from North High Brewing.
“It made me say ‘wow’ when I first tasted it,” Thomas said.
The festival also featured tents for vendors, as well as people educating others about pawpaws and environmental issues.
Roxanne Groff, a member of the steering committee for the Athens County Fracking Action Network, talked with attendees about issues facing the environment in Ohio. She said she has been getting “great feedback,” and the choice to have a tent at the festival was made because it was an opportunity to educate people from all over the state.
Tom Calhoun, who works with Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development, was working the energy tent, which featured information and activities about energy efficiency. He said its work fits in at the Pawpaw Festival because many visitors recognize the importance of being environmentally friendly.
“In this particular climate right now … we’ve got to figure out a way to move forward and hopefully leave less of a footprint than we are leaving,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun, who has been coming to the festival for many years, said his favorite part of the festival was meeting different people who are locals or visitors who came out to celebrate pawpaws.
“(The festival has) taken on a life of its own,” he said. “This is a family thing. That’s where it starts — with the kids.”