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The Morning Call: Bethlehem’s annual Blueberry Festival features first-ever pet parade

July 18th, 2016 |

Written by Kevin Duffy for The Morning Call

BETHLEHEM — After negotiating a difficult field that included German shepherds, English bulldogs and even a pair of chickens, it was a tiny little Yorkshire terrier that emerged victorious during the Blueberry Festival’s first-ever pet parade Sunday.

Judged on “cuteness and use of blue,” entrants were also given extra consideration for “embracing the blueberry theme,” said Lindsey Jancay, a judge for the competition.

Now in its 30th year, the popular annual event, hosted by Historic Bethlehem Museum & Sites, drew large crowds Saturday and Sunday to Burnside Plantation, with first-time attractions pumping new life into the weekend.

While pie-eating contests, live musical performances and arts and crafts vendors provided the returning staples, this year’s Blueberry Festival included a focus on people’s love of their household pets, with the pet parade late Sunday afternoon underscoring that love.

That focus ties in to the opening of the Creature Companions exhibit at the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts, said LoriAnn Wukitsch, managing director of Historic Bethlehem Museum & Sites.

The exhibit, she said, shows how pets have effected families over the years, with vintage photos, jewelry and clothing on display to illustrate that impact.

“Years ago they were primarily outdoors with jobs to do — cats were to keep the mice down on the farms,” said Charlene Donchez, president of Historic Bethlehem.

The exhibit, which opened Friday, runs through the October.

All proceeds from the weekend festival go toward maintaining the 20 historic landmarks that are part of Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites, Wukitsch said.

The parade was preceded by a Pet Adoption Day on Saturday, with Logan’s Heroes Animal Rescue and Tails of Valor bringing dogs and cats in need of homes to the festival. Interested folks filled out applications as part of a pre-screening process as the first step in bringing home new pets.

Also new this year was a sampling tent where visitors could try beer, wine, and mead concocted with blueberries.

Boardroom Spirits, Lansdale, provided blueberry flavored vodka.

“It’s light with a little bit of fruitiness,” Bethlehem resident Carol Haskell said.

Ryan Waldron of Freemansburg, who attended Sunday with his father, Bill, said he liked Fegley’s Blueberry Belch, 4.2 percent alcohol by volume beer made from 360 pounds of blueberries per each 15 barrel batch.

“It’s fruity — I enjoyed it,” he said.

Katie Schutts, from Northampton, called it “a nice, light beer with a hint of blueberry,” and said the best way to try it was directly from the taps connected to the vans parked alongside the tent, rather than from the sampling pitchers.

“I think that’s why some people were not jazzed about it but I’m digging it still,” she said.

Her friend Brianne Shamburger, of Stroudsburg, said she was enjoying her first Blueberry Festival experience.

“Blueberry desserts, blueberry liquor, how can you go wrong?” she asked.

As for desserts, the winner in the adult phase of the pie-eating contest, Leigh Keenan, credited 12 year-old Kyle Swartwood, who won the kids competition beforehand, with providing him with the necessary technique to come out on top.

He said flipping the pie upside down and freeing it from its metal tin was the secret to besting the 11-person field.

“I copied him and that was it,” he said while wiping blueberry residue from his face.

Swartwood said he stumbled upon the technique by accident.

“At first I was just eating the pie and then I just tipped it over,” the Eyre Middle School student said.

The two-day event wrapped with the late afternoon pet parade, with “Maggie,” the 1-year old Yorky, taking top honors.

Her owner, Eva Abeniacar of Allentown, said the parade was “the perfect opportunity to showcase Maggie,” who modeled a felt and fabric blueberry, stuffed with newspaper, on her tiny frame.

Originally from Madrid, Spain, the 2015 graduate from Penn State with a degree in mechanical engineering said she wanted to experience the festival for the first time when she heard about it on the radio.

“I love all of the blueberry things,” she said while cradling the little pooch in her arms. “These are things you don’t normally see in Madrid.”

Kevin Duffy is a freelance writer.

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