Melissa Vyborny has given up trying to predict the weather, but as the general manager of Lakemont Park, she's gotten pretty good at judging what event will draw a big crowd.
And this weekend's annual Altoona First Festival, which many longtime residents may remember started out as the Keystone Country Festival, is always a huge hit even if the weather doesn't cooperate, Vyborny said.
"In this business, I've learned not to watch the weather because they'll say it's going to rain, then it doesn't rain and vice versa,'' she said. "So I've learned to just plan for the event and hope for the best.''
Craft booths line a walkway at Lakemont Park during last year’s Altoona First Festival.
Although Vyborny didn't have any specific figures, she said the festival usually draws thousands of people from across Pennsylvania and other states. Lakemont Park itself typically attracts visitors from the Pittsburgh and Harrisburg areas as well as DuBois on any given day, and the festival is no exception, Vyborny said.
In addition, people will also come to the festival from the Maryland area, she said.
"We have a nice draw from quite a large area,'' she said. "It's our biggest weekend, right up there with the Fourth of July weekend.''
If you go
What: Altoona First Festival
When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Lakemont Park, Altoona
Details: Admission is $5 which includes admission to festival plus all-day ride pass; children 2 years old and younger will be admitted for free. Festival parking is free.
More information: Call 949-7275 or 1-800-434-8006
This is the eighth year that Altoona First Savings Bank has been the major sponsor of the festival, said Troy Campbell, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the bank.
The bank was already participating in other similar community-related events when park officials approached the bank in 2005 and asked if it would sponsor the festival.
The festival seemed like a natural fit, Campbell said. The primary role of the bank in the festival is to provide financial support, he added.
"Altoona First Savings Bank is a community bank,'' Campbell said. "We do many things to impact our community in a positive way.''
One of the most popular aspects of the festival is the large selection of crafters who set up booths that offer a wide variety of wares, from wood art to intricate jewelry to handmade clothing items. Visitors shop for themselves or look for gifts for others, Vyborny said.
The theme of many of the booths is either fall or holiday decorations or maybe both, she said. And no doubt many of those strolling along are thinking it's not too early to start stocking up on gifts for the holidays, she said.
Of course, Lakemont Park is also about children and they're not left out of the fun. Events are planned for the younger set including a puppet show, a magic show and a petting zoo. The ticket price also includes admission to Lakemont Park, which means kids can ride all day on the rides at the amusement park, too.
And then everyone has to take a break and have something to eat. There's the Food Village, with something for everyone. And just about any type of treat a foodie could dream up should be available from one of the food vendors at the festival, from chicken barbecue to apple dumplings to hot sausage sandwiches, barbecue ribs, walking tacos, slushies, homemade rootbeer, sloppy joes, cinnamon-flavored nuts and more.
Once you're filled with food, why not check out some of the entertainment. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, The Deacons of Dixieland will perform their Dixieland-style of music on the Food Village stage. Also on the Food Village stage, r2b2 will play music of the '80s and '90s from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday and The Runaways will play music from the '50s and '60s from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.
On both days, Diamond Lane Farm & Carriage Service will provide horse-drawn carriage rides around the park starting lakeside from 1 to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Also singer/songwriter Ed McDade will entertain children with music and storytelling at the Kiddieland Stage on Saturday with shows starting at noon and 3:30 p.m. and shows on Sunday starting at 1 and 3 p.m.
The festival used to be three days but it was shortened to two to fit better into everyone's schedules, Vyborny said.
"It became a little more complicated for the vendors to get here on the weekdays because it's not the only thing that they do,'' she said. "It seems to work out better for us and for the vendors if we only have it on the weekends.''
The park closes after this weekend. Although there will be no rides open, it will reopen for "Holiday Lights on the Lake'' at Christmastime. That's when park workers create Christmas scenes in lights throughout the park that visitors can tour in vehicles.