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by Julie R. Cryser
ELKINS -- Beyond the yellow and orange maple leaves painted on the sidewalks; past the smell of cotton candy, the chug of twisting rides and the screams of children, there are the people, traditions and sense of community that make up a festival.
At the 62nd Mountain State Forest Festival, those people and traditions result in a variety of activities that make up the nine-day event, billed as the largest festival in West Virginia and perhaps in the nation.
"This festival shows a lot of diversity," said Joyce Cooper, one of 22 artists who owns Artists At Work, an arts cooperative located in downtown Elkins.
"It has the rural influence in this area, but we also have a fine arts exhibit," Cooper said, comparing Saturday's horse pull to the fine arts show that will be held at the Elkins YMCA starting Wednesday.
Saturday's events were among the more traditional -- horse pulling contests, a fire department competition and a horseshoe pitch.
"This festival represents West Virginia, and there's a lot of horseshoe pitching in West Virginia," said Floyd Riggleman, a volunteer who has helped organize the horseshoe contest for the last 15 or so years.
Several men started their pitching at 9 a.m. Saturday. They said the horseshoe competitions are a way to relax and visit.
"It's an old sport, and I like the competition and being around other people," said Joe Hogsett, who traveled from Huntington to compete.
It's that sense of community that keeps Larea Jones' husband coming to horseshoe events, she said. Jones, of Clarksburg, and the wives of other horseshoe pros sat on lawn chairs near the horseshoe pits early Saturday morning.
"The guys don't fuss or bicker," Jones said.
And the wives have become good friends. It's almost as if they are in a club of their own, said Barbara Carpenter.
"If there's games 365 days a year, I'm here with him," Carpenter said.
Cooper, with the arts store, said festivals in themselves are a tradition in West Virginia.
"A lot of towns have little festivals, and it's a time to come back and remember your childhood," she said.
For others, this week's festival will become a part of their childhood.
"We only spend a couple of days down here," said Carl MacVean, 11, of Elkins. "But I like to go on the Round-Up and play ski ball."
MacVean was riding his bike past the rides Saturday, checking out some of the features of the week. The carnival, which MacVean was most interested in, opened at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The rest of the week's events will be a mix of the old and the new. Today's events include a parade of children at 3:30 p.m., as well as a performance by the Wheeling Symphony at 7:30 p.m. The rest of the week's events include arts and crafts exhibits, concerts a fireman's parade and a queen's ball. A fireworks display will be held in downtown Elkins Friday night at 10:30 p.m.
Residents said they expect the festival to draw a large crowd to Elkins to participate in the community event.
"Our tradition is homecomings," Cooper said.