Life in City Park is pretty sweet this weekend. I know—it’s an awful pun, but I just couldn’t help it. You see, the park is the site of the 36th annual West Virginia Honey Festival, which runs until 6 p.m. on Saturday and then from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is just $2.
The festival’s purpose, according to their website, “is to educate the community on the importance of honey and the honey bee.” And it does a great job of that, through displays and demonstrations from organizations like the MOV Beekeepers Association; Steve Conlon, also known as The Bee Man; and several local beekeepers who are selling honey and honey-derived products, but are also more than willing to answer all the questions that visitors may have.
One such vender was a man named Jim, who owns Turtle Run Farms in Pullman. He told me that the bee population is struggling because of several factors, including pesticides, fertilizers, diseases, colony collapse syndrome, and warmer weather. He said, though, that through education and a growth in the number of beekeepers in the state, that the population is slowly making a comeback. When I asked him where their bees came from, he surprised me by saying that, in addition to working with clubs like the MOV Beekeepers Association, it’s possible to order bees online by the box. They come complete with a queen.
One of the most fascinating things you are likely to learn if you wander about tasting the wares of the many local vendors is that raw local honey bears little resemblance the stuff you buy in stores, which, according to Sharon Christ of Hillbilly Honey in Reedy, is almost always mixed with water and high fructose corn syrup. Ms. Christ’s honey was dark and unctuous and nuanced in flavor, whereas manufactured honey just basically tastes sweet. You will also find several varieties of honey from light tan to dark amber. The color and strength of the honey, according to Ms. Christ has everything to do with what the bees had access to when they gathered the pollen. She said that this year, it was quite rainy at the time the bees were working, so they spent more time on blossoming trees than usual, which meant her honey was darker than it has been in years.
But if honey isn’t your thing, have no fear. There are many other vendors selling foodstuffs and products of nearly every kind. You’ll find handcrafted leather products, jewelry, fabric items, lotions, balms, jams, jellies, and much more. You can even buy homemade apple butter from the Parkersburg High School crew team. In addition, there are several food trucks and kiosks open with refreshments ranging from drinks to honey-drizzled ice cream to full meals.
The festival is much more than just a place to go to learn about bees and buy things, though. There are concerts, games, and activities as well, such as a live-action roleplaying game and zip line for children. And what honey festival would be complete without the ever-popular bee beard? Steve Conlon, the aforementioned Bee Man, will be demonstrating his bee beard at four different times throughout the weekend. It’s just one of those things you need to see in person before you die.
So if you’re interested in learning more about honey, bees, or beekeeping or if you’re just looking for something fun to do and support a good cause at the same time, City Park is the place to be this weekend. If you go, you’ll understand what all the buzz is about. Sorry. I couldn’t stop myself. Don’t bee mad.