Seasons not the only thing changing

Autumn has officially arrived in Eastern Ohio, and the weather changed right on queue with a cloudy sky and cooler temperatures. I have noticed, though, that more than just the season is changing.

It seems activity related to the natural gas and oil industry is picking up again. The first evidence I saw came in the form of campers.

As I was driving from place to place throughout the region, I realized that some RV parks that previously had been nearly abandoned were suddenly populated again. At sites along U.S. 40 west of St. Clairsville, and a smaller spots near Belmont and Lamira, I saw a noticeable increase in the number of campers parked there.

That uptick in activity can only mean one thing: Once again, workers from other areas such as Oklahoma and Texas are in the area working on pipelines and well pads.

There have been a few other signs of increased activity as well. Just last week, the National Association of Royalty Owners held its annual conference for the Appalachian region at Oglebay Park. While there was a lot of talk about stagnant prices for natural gas and the need to complete infrastructure projects to help get the gas and related liquids to market, there also was a fair amount of optimism among the presenters and the crowd. Experts in the field see the Utica and Marcellus shale plays in the local area as the future of the industry.

Late next month, people interested in the industry will gather again in Pittsburgh, but that is a topic for another day.

In addition o what I have noticed in the surrounding area and at specific events, I received a visit last week from a couple of folks in the industry. Mike Chadsey of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and Karen Matusik of XTO Energy stopped by The Times Leader office.

We had a nice chat about what’s happening in the industry and where things seem to be headed. While neither Chadsey nor Matusik had any insight to share regarding the biggest question on local minds — will PTT Global Chemical build an ethane cracker plant at Dilles Bottom? — they both said they believe the industry will continue to grow and thrive in the local area for years to come.

We are only going to see production increase in Belmont County, according to Matusik, who expects that growth to occur “exponentially.” Chadsey agreed, noting that gas-fired power plants are popping up all over the region, although not specifically in Belmont County. He and Matusik both said this will help drive local demand for our gas, and they also have high hopes for the future of related products such as the plentiful ethane beneath our feet and the other natural gas liquids.

I hope they are right, and that our natural resources continue to provide income for those who hold the mineral rights as well as jobs for local residents. Chadsey and Matusik both said they believe the local workforce is learning the skills needed for most industry-related jobs. So, that is another change worth mentioning. If that is the case, many more of those jobs should go to local people in the coming months and years.

We will just have to keep an eye on things and see what develops.

On a completely different topic, I am excited about participating in a local tradition.

I am really looking forward to Wednesday evening.

No, I don’t have big plans with my husband. I don’t have a night out with friends arranged. Instead, I intend to stand around on the streets of Barnesville for a couple hours.

That may not sound exciting to most people, but that may be because they have never witnessed a King Pumpkin Weigh-In event in person. I cover the event almost every year, marking the start of the Pumpkin Festival.

As the evening wears on, people from all over Ohio — and perhaps all over this part of the country — will appear with giant gourds of many hues loaded on the backs of pick-up trucks. Those fruits will be hoisted onto a large set of scales to be officially weighed and compared to other entries.

Often, the pumpkin growers try to save the best for last. The suspense builds throughout the evening as entrants begin to hope they may win the title. Then, someone with a truly enormous pumpkin pulls up and everyone holds their breath as they wait to hear just how heavy it is.

Last year’s winner, grown by Todd and Donna Skinner right within the village limits, tipped the scale at 2,150 pounds, setting festival and state records.

But Wednesday is just the beginning of a wonderful, community event. The Pumpkin Festival is a tradition more than five decades in the making. It attracts people from far and wide, and serves as an excuse for many who have moved away to return home again for a visit.

Over the years, the street fair has grown to the point that attendance throughout the week is estimated at more than 100,000 people annually.

What draws everyone in?

It might be the pumpkin-flavored ice cream. Or it could be the fall-themed arts and crafts that are available for sale. Maybe it is the carnival rides that children and adults can enjoy. Or, perhaps, it is the old-fashioned entertainment, such as hog calling contests, fiddle and banjo players, and much, much more.

Among the favorite attractions is the Giant Pumpkin Parade, held at 2 p.m. Saturday of the event each year. Participants include local marching bands, antique auto enthusiasts, Scout troops and festival queens and royalty from all around the Buckeye State.

In addition, there is an annual 5K race and a popular car show. The sweet and savory foods available from a multitude of street vendors also attracts many people, even if they only stop by to pick up lunch or dinner. One festival favorite is the pumpkin bread made and sold by the students of Olney Friends School, a private, Quaker-based high school on the east end of the community.

If you have never been to the Pumpkin Festival, you are missing out on an important local tradition. Regardless of your tastes, I feel confident you can find a way to have fun there.

I know I’ll be there Wednesday night, and I might return at another time. Maybe I will see you there.