Note: This story appears in the Tuesday, Sept. 10 newspaper on Page A1.

ALBANY — Lake Snowden will soon be teaming with crowds, live music and enough food and beverages to go around, all in celebration of the Ohio’s state fruit: the pawpaw.

The soft, mango-like fruit is native to the area and the 21st Annual Ohio Pawpaw Festival has a mission of celebrating all aspects of the treat. The festival is set for this weekend, Sept. 13-15, featuring contests, art, history, education, sustainable living workshops, musical performances and more throughout all three days.

Festival-goers have long enjoyed a weekend of pawpaw beer to wash down pawpaw-flavored foods and desserts. That should hold true this year, grower and festival organizer Chris Chmiel said, despite the pawpaw harvest not being as good in 2019 as in year’s past.

“The last couple of years we’ve had pretty good crops (of pawpaws), but I think you can’t have a good year every year,” he said. “Luckily, we have frozen stuff from last year’s harvest.”

That quantity should be enough to support the breweries and food vendors’ needs, though Chmiel said there may be fewer fresh pawpaws available overall this weekend compared to earlier years.

“Which is unfortunate, because that’s the best way to eat them,” Chmiel noted.

There are many other festivities planned to keep attendees busy. Even Bigfoot is alleged to be coming to the beach of Lake Snowden to enjoy the fruit-based celebration. Chmiel noted that Bigfoot is featured in this year’s logo, which in the past has featured animals and insects from the region, including opossums and the zebra swallowtail butterfly.

“I guess Bigfoot likes to eat pawpaws too,” Chmiel joked.

Here are a few other highlights of festival weekend.

The Pawpaw Double Nickel Bicycle Ride along with the Pawpaw 4-miler and 1-mile fun run/walk are designed to get festival-goers out into the nature surrounding Lake Snowden.

The self-guided bike race’s day-of registration is scheduled to be open from 8:30-10:30 a.m. on Saturday. Riders can get started at any point during those times. The rest stop will remain set up through 2 p.m. The marked ride is 55 miles long, but a shorter, 20-mile loop option is available.

The foot race is scheduled for Sunday beginning at 9 a.m. The classic cross-country race has been held at the festival for four years, and includes a 1-mile fun option for kids, families and those seeking an easier option.

Many activities are returning from previous years, including the Best Pawpaw Competition, planned for Saturday at 12:15 p.m., with winners to be announced later that day; the brewer’s roundtable and tasting, which celebrates the process of creating all of the brews made by those on the panel (including those made with pawpaws); and the popular pollinator tent, which is sponsored by Butterfly Ridge Conservation Center and National Wildlife Federation. The tent offers many exhibits, as well as several lectures throughout the festival on natural phenomena.

However, the festival is more than the booths, talks and tasty food: it’s a cultural experience.

Dozens of local artisans hawk their wares at the event, as well as nonprofits and farmers. Other booths focus on education, while still more feature businesses dedicated to sustainability, helping the community and more. All of this is in addition to the food vendors, each of which feature a dish made with pawpaw.

Pawpaw pico de gallo, pawpaw lamb shish kebobs, pawpaw-infused tamales, pawpaw ice candy, pawpaw chutney, pawpaw maple donuts — the list seems endless.

Chmiel noted that this year’s musical talent will be split between Friday and Saturday night, with Friday dedicated to a more “punkier, grungier sound,” with bands such as Supersucker set to perform. Saturday will be more laid back, with reggae bands and others set for a more family-oriented sound, featuring bands such as Erin Harpe and the Delta Swingers.

The festival’s organizers are dedicated to sustainability, local goods and services, and ensuring the event is fun for the whole family.

The festival is partnering with Zero Waste Event Productions, which is through Rural Action, for several years. The goal is to have zero waste headed to the landfill. Last year, the festival achieved a rate of almost 90 percent diversion from the landfill — most of the festival’s waste is in the form of compost, and this year all vendors have committed to using compostable service ware. The stage is also solar powered and those seeking libations can purchase reusable beer glasses.

Attendees should also note the festival has adopted security measures similar to those seen across the U.S. that limit attendees to clear plastic or vinyl bags under 13-by-17 feet, in addition to other limitations on what may be brought onto the grounds. Check the festival website at www.ohiopawpawfest.com for full details.

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