A major tourist draw Phun times at Phunfest Tens of thousands, many from out of state, attend covered bridge festival and Phunfest
ELYSBURG - What does a banana-mustard-hot-dog-ketchup-pizza family, a girl in a balloon hat and a woman carrying bright yellow flowers have in common?
Well, they all loved their time Saturday at the 31st annual Covered Bridge and Arts Festival and The Phoenix Phall Phunfest at Knoebels Amusement Resort.
"It's our first time at the festival, and we're enjoying the heck out of it," said Gloria Pastula, of Frackville, referring to herself and her friend, Loretta Kehoe, of Shenandoah Heights. She was carrying a craft vase with yellow flowers in it.
Kehoe, who said she had to talk Pastula into coming, compared the festival to a "mini Bloomsburg Fair."
"And we're coming back tomorrow," she noted.
It was also the first time for Paul and Michelle Harenza and their niece, Ava Malacarne, who was sporting an elaborate balloon hat.
"So many people have talked about this. We finally had the day off and a chance to come. We're overly impressed," Michelle Harenza said.
Paul Harenza said it's good for the kids to come with parents and go on the rides so they're not bored. The 5-year-old Ava went on the kiddie Whip four times.
The couple had arms full of various crafts, including yard ornaments, Halloween decorations and inflatable balloons.
Tens of thousands
The festival is sponsored by the Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau. Megan Hummel, chairperson of the event, estimated there were at least 20,000 people at the event Saturday and at least 30,000 since Thursday. These include people from New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Illinois.
"It's always growing, changing and improving. We work hard every year with Knoebels and our committee to make this festival different and better," she said.
It's successful each year because "it's a reason for families to get together," she said.
This year, the event showcased "agritourism," which is defined as people in the agriculture business who cross over to the tourism business. On Thursday and Friday, business owners from Washingtonville brought dromedary camels and allowed people to sample their milk or buy it at $8 a pint.
Otherwise, there were more than 350 crafters and 30 food vendors.
"The quality of crafts are well known to many buyers. Everyone does well," said Hummel.
The goal of the visitors bureau is to put "heads in the beds," meaning they want to make sure people are staying in the local lodging, using local gas stations and buying local groceries.
This is also why, for the first time, they tapped 24 Bloomsburg University students to do an economic impact study on how much people are spending and what the immediate impact of the festival is on the local economy.
"We think it's a positive, not just because of the great food and wonderful crafts," she said.
The event again runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and will feature covered bridge tours and an antique car show.
Happening at the same time as the festival Saturday was "The Phoenix Phall Phunfest, which started at 6 p.m. Guests were able to enjoy The Haunted Antique Cars and take trips on the Pioneer Train, dubbed the "Halloween Express."
It's what drew the Berkey family to Elysburg all the way from Ohio.
"We love Knoebels. We've been all over America to amusement parks and this is the best," said Bill Berkey, who was in a banana costume.
His wife, Michelle Berkey, who was in a mustard bottle costume, agreed.
"It's like stepping back in time. There are friendly workers and great rides," she said.
Their children were also dressed up in costumes. Nine-year-old Jacob was a hot dog, 8-year-old Josh was a ketchup bottle and 7-year-old Jeremy was a slice of pizza.
The family was excited to ride the Phoenix, the Twister and the rest of the rides included in the Phunfest.
A costume parade was held at 8 p.m. with prizes for best costume, individual or couple, and group.
The Phunfest wouldn't be complete with macabre scenes scattered throughout the park, including a haunted pumpkin patch, a pirate ship on Roaring Creek, a skeleton riding a Flyer car and spiderwebs overrunning the bear statue at the security center.