Every year the arrival of fall is celebrated in Carroll County by Piney Run Park and Nature Center at the "Apple Festival" in Sykesville. The bright sunshine, crisp temperatures, and light breeze throughout the day on Saturday, Sept. 30 set the stage for hundreds of folks to descend upon the park.
On any given day, the opportunity to breath in the crisp, fresh air, and enjoy the views of the 300-acre lake and 500 acres of woods and open space in southern Carroll County is sufficient reward. Yet, during the apple festival the park is seasoned with the smells and tastes of apples, apples, and more apples, prepared in every way imaginable; all flavored with the laughter of children and their families. Looking at the pretty colors of the changing leaves in autumn is great, but you can't eat them — you can eat apples.
First stop was the scarecrow making pavilion. At the nearby information table, Jeff Schoff, a festival volunteer, and past president of the Piney Run Recreation and Conservation Council, said: "It's always good crowd here. … Typically, in the past, we always sell out of scarecrows."
Lorrie Voytek, the current president of the recreation council, added, "We're delighted to see all the families come out and enjoy a pretty fall day."
"I've been volunteering since the mid-1990s and the festival just grows every year," she said. "The festival is a success because of all the volunteers and the support of the community."
Meanwhile, as Denise Slaughter, of Mount Airy, was making her scarecrow come alive with another handful of straw, she explained, "We do this every year." Her husband, Scott, asked how "Alice" was coming along. "Yes, the scarecrows' names are Alice and Bob," said Scott.
Denise then explained, "We have Adirondack lawn chairs in the front yard, and we put the scarecrows in the chairs in the fall. Then for Halloween, we make them scary. We put ski masks on them…"
"We've been doing this for over 15 years, maybe 20. … Every year they are named Alice and Bob. The names come from one of my favorite physics stories," explained Scott, a nuclear reactor operator by trade. "If you take a particle and you split it into two – one particle becomes Bob, and the other, Alice. …
"Anytime you get to talk about quantum physics while you are making a scarecrow, life is good."
Who knew you could that much fun by paying $10 to make a scarecrow?
Saturday, there were 25 vendors at the festival selling something for everyone — everything from candles, books, honey, photography, nuts, fruits, and berries, to clothing. One vendor was overheard at the end of the day saying that she had her best sales day all summer.
You cannot be on a diet and go to an apple festival, so for everyone who came to eat, there were four food stands with lines that moved steadily all day.
The proceeds from the Recreation and Conservation Council apple emporium at pavilion No. 1 directly benefited the park programs, exhibits, camps, and college scholarships. There you could find baked apple pies, apple dumplings, sliced apples with caramel dip and most importantly, apple fritters.
Over at the apple and fruit stand run by Diveley's Fruit Farm and Markets, Mikaela Varner said that "business had been steady" all day, as she handed a bag of apples to a Mom who was juggling a toddler in one arm and trying to fend off her other kids who were already reaching into the bag.
Also behind the counter was David Eiker, who said this was "their second year at the festival." Some of the apples seemed unfamiliar.
"Yeah, there are a lot of new varieties. We grow 32 varieties. We only have 14 kinds of apples here," Eiker said.
Laura O'Callaghan sat at one of the picnic tables with her friend Donna Selden.
"We came here to go to the [Carroll County] Forestry Board's table to buy native trees," explained Selden. O'Callaghan emphatically finished her sentence with, "and eat apple pie."
"Great festival. Lots of people. Huge crowd. Fun family atmosphere," added Selden.
The park naturalist with the nature center, Max Bukowitz said, it was their 32nd year. After answering her radio, and providing instructions to a staff member, she stopped and exhaled, then said, "It's busy. What I like about this festival is that it gets kids connected with the park. We get them here for the festival, and to experience nature and see real animals. Once we get them hooked on nature they come back."
When asked about the history of the festival, Bukowitz explained that "there used to be an apple orchard here — over by pavilion three (closer to the lake by the boat ramp.) There are still a few trees left." And it's not all about eating apples, "today we have something for everyone."
Over at the apple juice press, Ella Miller, a fifth-grader at Manor Wood Elementary School, park volunteers Ashley Baer, and Sasa Maricic, and Andrew Miller, were using teamwork to press apples into juice. Ella quickly explained, "Basically we came here to have a little fun. We've been on the hay ride. Got to see the birds, and make a scarecrow. This is our first time here."
Mike Miller, the dad, added, "This is our first day to enjoy the fall. We wanted to get the kids out of the house to enjoy the fresh air."
At the White Rock Independent Methodist Episcopal Church pit beef and barbecue table, Robyn Coleman, Roscoe Gassaway, Justine Reese, Joyce Hudson, and Jackie Thomas stayed busy all day.
Thomas, the head of the church's board of trustees explained, "We have been coming to the festival for many years." The church is located nearby and "we think it's an important outreach into our community — and a fundraiser, and it's a wonderful atmosphere."
Joanne Neil stopped for a moment from making apple fritter batter, to explain that she remembers "the very beginnings" of the park, which was dedicated Oct. 30, 1974.
"I've volunteered here and been on the Piney Run Recreation and Conservation Council since the beginning… The festival provides us with a good opportunity to raise community awareness about the park," Neil said. "It's a good event to promote families and the outdoors. It's a beautiful place. ... It takes weeks of preparations to get ready for the festival. This year we sold 90 pies and 225 apple dumplings.'
Linda Coyne, a weekly nature center volunteer explained that she has "been doing this for many years — always the apple dumplings. I love volunteering to give back." It's been a day "of wonderful people and it's good to highlight the park. I am always surprised that Piney Run Park is the best kept secret in the county."
By late afternoon, Mason McKechnie had worked since 9 in the morning making apple fritters. McKechnie is on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout with Troop 1231 at Messiah Lutheran Church, and has been volunteering at the park nature center. "I'm here to give back to the park and the community. Right now I'm tired but I've met many nice people. I'm still smiling — and happy. So, it's all good."
At the bake table, Renee Schoff said that in addition to the 90 pies, "we sold all kinds of cookies, apple cakes, cupcakes, and other baked goods."
"We completely sold out. Lots of families," Schoff said. "Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. It's been a fantastic day."