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Pawpaws being weighed at the 18th Annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival in Albany on Sept. 18, 2016. (FILE)

Pawpaw Festival to celebrate its 20th year this weekend

The Ohio Pawpaw Festival will happen for the 20th year this weekend, and attendees will be able to try some pawpaw-flavored treats, listen to live music and, for the first time, attend a wedding.

The Pawpaw Festival will take place Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Lake Snowden in Albany. There will be a range of events from family hula-hooping to art installations and many vendors for all kinds of pawpaw cuisine. 

The pawpaw, a fruit native to North America that has a tropical taste, is green and black on the outside but bright yellow and juicy on the inside. The fruit is significant for the Athens area, where amateur and professional growers gather for the Pawpaw Festival each year.  

Chris Chmiel, founder of the Pawpaw Festival, said festivities will include past pawpaw-related favorites, such as a best pawpaw competition, a pawpaw cook-off and a pawpaw-eating contest. Attendees will also get to meet the owners of local microbreweries and test their pawpaw-flavored creations throughout the weekend.

“We’re sort of holding steady,” Chmiel said. “If the weather works out, we may have more (attendees) than ever.”

Chmiel said two pawpaw lovers became actual lovers after they met at the festival five years ago. This year, they will celebrate their wedding at the festival among fellow fruit lovers in an unplanned but exciting addition to the event.

Companion Plants, a local herb nursery, has been in attendance at the festival for many consecutive years. Owner Peter Borchard said he knew Chmiel before the festival began and seeing him host the popular event made him excited to get his business involved. 

“I have attended numerous shows, but this one is by far my favorite,” owner Peter Borchard said.

Companion Plants is known to sell both common and exotic herbs. They sell rosemary, lavender and even pawpaw seeds at the festival. Borchard described the atmosphere at the festival to be “friendly, relaxed and music playing all day.” 

Like Companion Plants, Chmiel is a big part of why Athens Bicycle has attended the festival for nearly 10 years. Peter Kotses, the owner of Athens Bicycle and an Athens city councilman, and Chmiel have known each other since they attended college together.

Athens Bicycle will host a bike ride at the festival, where attendees can choose between a 55-mile loop or 20-mile loop.

Each year, Athens Bicycle donates a bike to the Athens Conservancy. Raffle tickets are sold for the bike at the festival, and the proceeds go to the conservatory’s general fund, which funds projects like watershed protection and improving access to state parks.

“The Pawpaw Festival is a good, fun, family (and) community event,” Kotses said.

Sara Hagan, a freshman studying middle education, said she would be excited to attend the Pawpaw Festival and had heard about it online. She didn’t know what a pawpaw was until she came to Athens, and even though she has not tried one yet, she said she would love to experience the tropical taste. 

Hagan is a supporter of local businesses and said she appreciates the festival’s focus on promoting them.

“I think it would be fun to go and see what it’s all about,” Hagan said. 


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