A taste of fall: 25th Darlington Apple Festival is sweetest yet

The smell of funnel cakes, fallen leaves and, of course, apples, was in the air Saturday at the 25th Darlington Apple Festival.

Brisk weather and a chance of rain didn't keep the hoards of apple and craft lovers away — the streets of downtown Darlington were jam-packed with people and vendors bundled up for the sudden fall weather.

The chilly air and slight breeze were an afterthought, though, once locals got into the fray. Everywhere you turned were beautiful, potted mums, handmade Halloween and Christmas decorations, artisans from around the state and an orchard's worth of apple treats.

Those looking for the sweet fruit weren't disappointed as more than a dozen varieties were available: stayman, jonagold, ginger gold, jonathan, royal court, suncrisp, cameo and shizuka were just a few.

Lines for various food vendors were long, especially for the folks selling crowd favorites apple delites and crabcakes. But there was something for everyone — pit beef, ice cream fresh from the farm, kettle corn, apple fritters, apple dumplings, apple pie, apple cake and, well, apple everything.

It's the food that keeps Theresa Lutz, of Bel Air, coming back every year.

Lutz, 36, came to the festival that afternoon "just to spend some time with my girls," along with her sister, Tina Powers, of Jacksonville.

Lutz added "the sample of fall" was another reason for her annual visit to the festival, though it had been more crowded in previous years.

Powers, 40, loves the food and crafts the festival had to offer and was impressed from her first time there.

"I think it's great," she said.

Ravens fans were also able to find goods to add to their collections. Nancy Collins, of Churchville, was eyeing a black and purple wreath in one artist's tent.

"I love to walk around and eat," said Collins, 49, who has been coming for 10 to 15 years. This year had the coolest weather of all the other ones she's attended, but that didn't stop her, she said.

Children got to enjoy a beanbag toss and hay rides or have their hair spray-painted with neon colors.

Jim Bender, of Bel Air, brought his granddaughter to the festival like he has for the past three years.

Besides the rides and "plenty of food," Bender, 56, just wanted to enjoy the "great, great weather."

Donna King, who was meeting a friend later that afternoon, was on the hunt for a "huge" Christmas wreath, saying she had bought a fall wreath last year during the festival and loved it.

"I try to be off that day," King, 50, of Forest Hill, said, noting she looks forward to the crafts and food.

Clay Kenney, 10, had something special to look forward to this year: he designed the official apple festival logo.

The apple with stars and stripes resembling the American flag was printed on festival programs and T-shirts, one of which Clay, of Belcamp, was wearing that day.

When he learned that his design won the festival's contest, Clay was "amazed."

"I was floored. I didn't know what his chances would be," mom Heather Kenney, 42, said. An art teacher at Church Creek Elementary encouraged Clay to enter his design, which has 11 stars to signify 2011, into the contest. In addition to having his picture printed on festival materials, Clay also received a plaque.

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