Pioneer Day held in Ashland
ASHLAND - It was a celebration of community and history during the 21st edition of Pioneer Days at Higher Up Park in Ashland, located near the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine and Steam Train tourist attraction.
The annual event kicked off in the morning with splendid weather of clear blue skies, very comfortable summer temperatures and low humidity, making a walk through the park a wonderful experience, with visitors enjoying music, food, crafts and history.
"The weather is perfect," said Dennis Kane, who is board president of the non-profit Ashland Community Enterprises, which owns and operates the tourist attraction. Kane is also an engineer for the Henry Clay steam lokie and provides information to riders of the lokie tour around the mountain.
Kane said visitors began showing up before the 10 a.m. start and were buying tickets for the lokie and coal mine tours. The parking lot at the site was filled by 11 a.m.
"When we start strong early, it's usually an indication of a good day," said Kane. "It's not one of those days that you're second-guessing the weather. You're guaranteed a good day and that will bring people out early, which is good for the vendors and community groups in the park. We have the Ashland
Masons with their chicken dinners, the Friends of St. Joseph who are down in the pavilion with food, the American Hose Company is here with homemade french fries, and local businesses are here like Groody's and Mays. We have Egyptian food, which I've heard people talking about and wanting to try. We've also added amusements for the kids by a business from Kulpmont."
Kane said it takes a lot of preparation and gives credit to business manager Kathy Lattis in getting it all together.
"It's a lot of work and Kathy Lattis does an amazing job coordinating this," said Kane. "It's a year-round thing to keep Pioneer Day going. It's wonderful for the community."
Kane was expecting about 5,000 visitors for the day.
Cheyenne Bentley Cole of Cressona is a big fan of trains, even though she is only 16 months old. She was in the park with her great-grandparents, Linda and George Heffner, also of Cressona, and one of her first stops was a miniature lokie with a Reading Railroad logo, where she went inside the cab.
"She just loves trains. When she goes to Knoebels, she rides the train every time," said Linda Heffner. "We come here almost every year to Pioneer Tunnel. We've had all of our grandchildren to go down into the tunnel. Cheyenne is our great-granddaughter, but she's still a bit too young and not quite ready for that."
Entertainment throughout the day was provided by The Breaker Boys- Tommy Symons Sr. and Stu Richards - dressed as coal miners of days gone by and telling jokes and songs. Both performed inside the mine tunnel and outside near the waiting area for the mine and lokie tours.
During the afternoon, a popular oldies band called Memory Lane performed at the bandstand in the park during the afternoon. People were setting up their folding chairs from the morning to make sure they had a good location to enjoy the music.
Children enjoyed the recreational facilities in the park. Pony rides were available, along with a petting zoo featuring animals from rabbits to llamas. At the lower section of the park, crafters and organizations had stands along what has been called "Vendors Row." One popular stop was the ABA table, where memorabilia, such as buttons, T-shirts and commemorative books, were being sold for the upcoming ABA parade and the dedication of the state historical marker honoring the Ashland Boys Association on Aug. 31.
Pioneer Day began in 1992 to celebrate the tourist attraction's 30th anniversary. Four vendors participated in the event to mark the creation of Pioneer Tunnel, which is one of the top 10 tourist attractions in Pennsylvania. Those vendors only lined a portion of the road near the office at the site that year. Now, the entire Higher Up Park is filled with crafters, food vendors, local organization holding fundraisers, downtown revitalization groups, and more.
The mine tour took visitors deep inside the mountain to see what a coal mine operation was like. Tour guides told the story of how anthracite coal was mined and the plight of miners at a time when the donkeys used to haul the coal from the mines were more valuable to the mine owners than the human workers. Mine tour guides explain the history to the visitors, as did The Breaker Boys.
In order to accommodate the additional vehicles of the many visitors, there was free parking and free shuttle service from the Gitman Brothers parking lot at Centre and 23th streets to Pioneer Tunnel throughout the day.
Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine and Steam Train is operated by Ashland Community Enterprises, a volunteer board of directors created in 1962 to operate the tourist site.