Covered Bridge Festival
By Rick Hiduk
Washington and Greene counties in southwestern Pennsylvania are home to at least 30 covered bridges, and 10 of the iconic structures are featured each fall during the Covered Bridge Festival, which runs this year on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 19 and 20.
The Covered Bridge Festival serves as the official kickoff to the area's fall foliage season, according to Washington County Chamber of Commerce director of tourism Dana Bucci. "It is a very scenic and successful arts and crafts festival that has expanded to now feature more than 300 quality craft vendors, a variety of home-style food, entertainment, demonstrations, re-enactments, and more," Bucci explained.
Marking its 45th year, the festival is a cluster of individual celebrations conducted by a number of civic groups whose members share a common interest in preserving and showcasing their respective bridges. Each site proves popular with local residents and provides unique opportunities for visitors to the area.
"People come out to see each one of the bridges and challenge themselves to try to get to all 10 sites," said Greene County tourism director Elizabeth Menhart. Adventurous guests can pick up a driving tour brochure at a festival site and add more bridges and photo opportunities to their weekend trip.
While the covered bridge is the unifying factor, the individual festivals vary. Some are carnival-like with games, music, and food vendors, and others are more focused on historical aspects.
"Each Covered Bridge Festival location offers a charm of its own," Bucci explained. "Some focus on arts and crafts, some on entertainment, and others on special activities."
Some of the larger venues, including the Ebenezer Covered Bridge site in Mingo Creek County Park in Washington County and the White Covered Bridge Festival near Garards Fort in Greene County, offer both.
A local Civil War re-enactment group stages a "battle for the bridge" at White Covered Bridge. Native American groups make presentations, and artisans and craftsmen demonstrate their skills on-site in addition to offering their wares for purchase.
"I love the festival atmosphere," Menhart said of the weekend overall. Despite being just a short drive from cities and modern conveniences, she added, "It's nice to be able to go somewhere that takes you back in time." In addition to other types of entertainment on Saturday, the White Covered Bridge Festival offers gospel bluegrass music on Sunday after a morning church service.
Washington County boasts 23 bridges, eight of which are highlighted with individual celebrations. Another seven bridges can be found in Greene County, and two are featured during the festival weekend.
The Greene County Tourism Promotion Agency works closely with the Washington County Chamber of Commerce to produce the festival brochure and to promote the event. Park associations, municipal authorities, heritage organizations, and Friends groups coordinate their own activities at each site. They in turn are joined by fire companies, churches, Scouts, and other civic organizations.
"It's a great outdoors activity that is very popular with local people. And there are some food specialties (like bison burgers) that you will only find at the festival," said Menhart.
Bucci cites the beauty of the season, the signature arts and crafts vendors, and the variety of activities offered at each site as key reasons that so many families have made it a tradition to return each year. Regular guests regard the Covered Bridge Festival as a "quality, well-run event."
All of the covered bridges are traversable during festival weekend, though there may be some travel restrictions depending on how the grounds surrounding each bridge are utilized for the celebrations. A variety of lodging opportunities are available throughout both counties, including hotels, campgrounds, RV resorts, and bed-and-breakfasts.
Washington County borders Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) to the southwest, and the festival sites can range from 25 miles between Pittsburgh and Washington County to 60 miles between Pittsburgh and Greene County. Additional nearby towns include Washington, Canonsburg, Monongahela, and Waynesburg.
A complete list of Covered Bridge Festival sites can be found at www.VisitWashingtonCountyPA.com, and both the Washington County Chamber of Commerce and Greene County Tourism Promotion Agency welcome inquiries about lodging options.