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Thousands Expected to Attend Annual Winterfest in Martins Ferry

Photo Provided Winterfest sponsors add finishing touches to the city tree in preparation for the upcoming event. Pictured, from left, are Dan Stephens, Winterfest chair and owner of Dan Stephens Insurance; Karen Marsh, of Unified Bank; Hollie Bishop, of Unified Bank; and Katie Hicks, of Dan Stephens Insurance.

The third annual Winterfest is set to begin this weekend and is promised to be chock full of entertainment for the whole family.

The two-day festival will feature the annual Christmas parade by the Martins Ferry Volunteer Fire Department, a city tree lighting, live music, fireworks, food trucks, a skating rink, games, activities and more. The festivities are slated from 2-10 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday on Fifth and Hanover streets in Martins Ferry.

The Rev. William Webster, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church and a Project Forward member, said he is proud and excited for this year’s event.

“It’s (Winterfest) grown every year and we’re trying to make this one even more family-friendly than in the past. (We’re) trying to do more kid activities, that’s our goal,” he said.

The festival is organized by Project Forward, a nonprofit economic redevelopment organization dedicated to the revitalization of downtown Martins Ferry. Each year the organization holds two large festivals to benefit the community — the Strawberry Festival in the summer and Winterfest in the winter.

“There’s multiple people within our community who are part of it and we all come together as Project Forward to try to move our community forward. I’m blessed to be apart of such a great group of people,” Webster said.

There are 31 sponsors of the event this year, Webster said, including Unified Bank, Belmont County Tourism Council, Valley Wide Insurance, Deluxe Toy and Hobby, Dan Stephens State Farm Insurance, Kendall Behavioral Solutions, Linda Brown Allstate Insurance, Muxie Distributing, Martins Ferry Chamber of Commerce and Grace Presbyterian Church. The festival could not be put on without all of the sponsors and the community, Webster said.

“What a blessing to be part of this giving and generous community,” he added.

Unified Bank and Dan Stephens State Farm Insurance are the two major sponsors of this year’s event. Both companies call Martins Ferry home, having main offices located within the city. Scott Everson, president and CEO of Unified Bank, said the banking organization is committed to supporting the community in which it is located.

“Unified Bank cares deeply about the well-being and success of those in the communities we proudly serve. We strive to foster great experiences and positive interactions in everything we do; this is why Unified Bank is proud to sponsor the Martins Ferry Winterfest. We hope to see our friends at the tree lighting and please be sure to watch for our float in the Christmas parade this year. Always by your side. We are Unified,” Everson said.

Dan Stephens, owner of Dan Stephens State Farm Insurance, said he believes community events like this are vital to a community’s growth and prosperity.

“We are excited to grow along side of Martins Ferry and are pleased to see Martins Ferry recognized as the great community that it is,” he added.

Webster said there were several thousand attendees at last year’s festival and he expects there to be even more this year, so as long as the weather holds out. He said he is most enthused for the musical entertainment and the lighting of the city’s tree.

Webster said the festival began three years ago following a terrible fire that destroyed seven businesses near the intersection of Fourth and Hanover streets. The festival became a way to regrow and bring hope back to the downtown area, he said.

“It was a way to try to bring people together,” Webster said. “It’s a way to give thanks and come together; it’s also a way to look past our problems and come together and celebrate what we do have.”

Friday’s festivities will kick off with live music by Shannon Canterbury from 2-3:30 p.m. by the gazebo at the corner of Fifth and Hanover streets. Live music will be played throughout the day including “three great groups,” Webster said. The band Easy Street will perform from 6:30-7:30 p.m. followed by The Move Makers, out of Pittsburgh, from 8-10 p.m.

A skating rink will be open from 3-9 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday along Fifth Street. The synthetic ice rink is the width of the street and about 25 feet long, Webster said.

The annual Christmas parade, organized by the Martins Ferry VFD, will begin at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Following the parade, at about 7:30 p.m., the city tree lighting and fireworks display will be initiated.

“As soon as the parade ends, we’ll light the Christmas tree. We’ve got veterans from different wars who are taking part in the lighting of the tree. We have a great big plunger and they (veterans) will push the plunger down and the tree will light up, and then behind (the tree) there will be fireworks going off,” Webster said.

Members of the Matins Ferry Community Chorus will also sing Christmas carols at this time to involve attendees in the ceremony, he said.

Multiple food vendors, a craft beer tent and craft vendors will line the streets on both Friday and Saturday. There will also be large tents for people to stand under, along with warming barrels so that attendees can keep warm, Webster said.

Saturday’s events are geared more toward the children, Webster said.

The Kids’ Jingle Bell Fun Run will kick off the day at 9 a.m. Those interested in the fun run may sign up at the Martins Ferry Public Library by calling 740-633-0317. At 10 a.m., the children’s games and activities will get underway at the library and will feature Santa and Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Also, some of the children’s activities include a coloring contest, lasso-a-moose, pictures with a Yeti, plinko and more. The skating rink will remain open until 2 p.m. along with a craft and vendor show.

Project Forward invites everyone in the Ohio Valley to join the city in ushering in the holiday season at this year’s Winterfest. Webster said the festival is free to all, with the exception of the food and alcoholic beverages.

“It’s our gift to the community and valley,” he said of the festival. “Part of this is to showcase Matins Ferry and for people to take a look at us and to maybe see that this is a place where people can relocate and start or grow a business. It’s a party for our town and to hopefully bring people in (the city).”

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