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Canal Days carries tradition in Magnolia

By Walter Doerschuk | Alliance Review Published: April 2, 2014 9:00 AM
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The purposes of the Sandy and Beaver Canal were never really fulfilled. But its failures haven’t stopped one town in southeastern Stark County from recognizing the canal as an important part of its history and legacy. 

Plans originally called for the 74-mile canal to open commerce between the Ohio and Erie Canal and the Ohio River, according to the Ohio Canal Society’s website. The canal was only in operation for less than two years. 

Magnolia, Ohio was one area that the canal ran through. Despite its failures from operation, the town’s annual festival is named after the canal. 

Residents celebrate the Sandy and Beaver Canal Days annually during a three-day festival of a variety of events that a wide age range of people have attended. 

Area resident Bonnie Welker helps organize the entire festival. She said she thinks the three days are “an important part of the community.”  

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“What we try to do is make memories for the kids who grow up here so that they can have good memories of Canal Days to share with their kids," Welker said. 

The festival will be in its 34th year this year. Welker noted the town’s celebration is different now than when it first started. It used to be a homecoming which included carnival rides one might expect to see at a homecoming celebration. 

But rides and some of the typical homecoming celebration scenes have gone away. Welker said it rides were abandoned partly because of cost concerns. In addition, people at the festival used to dress up in costumes, but that too is no longer part of it. 

Fast forward to the present day, and each festival begins on the Friday of the second weekend in August. It is set to begin Aug. 8 this year.  

Magnolia Park is packed during all three days of the festival. On one far side of the park, inflatables are set up for children to bounce in and jump through. A pavilion sits in the middle of the park for multiple activities such as Bingo throughout the weekend. 

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The Magnolia Fire Department maintains a center eat stand in the middle of the park as well, with favorites such as coneys and sandwiches. Other local groups have offered their food favorites as well. The Pike Township Historical Society each year has featured its “Walking Tacos.” 

Local entertainment is also featured in the park, on the end opposite of inflatables for children. Muscians and dancers perform in a variety of genres on the stage each night. Hayrides are also available to visitors who wish to take a quick ride around the area. 

Numerous other events and activities take place in and out of the park area over the course of the three days. 

Tours of the Magnolia Flouring Mill in downtown Magnolia are provided  Stark County Parks District Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The mill was constructed in 1834 along the route of Sandy and Beaver Canal and was acquired by the park district in 2005. 

The first event is on Friday of each year where the Sandy Valley High School cross country team holds a foot race. Runners start the two-mile course in the Magnolia town square. 

Justin Baum, the head coach of Sandy Valley’s cross country team, helps organize the race. He said not everyone has to be an experienced runner to participate. 

“It’s a good race for someone who is a veteran runner like me, but it’s also good for novice runners,” Baum said.  

He noted the two-mile distance isn’t too long for novices, but it also provides some tests for veterans. 

The race used to be held on Saturday morning when it first started. A five-mile used to be part of the event as well, but that has been stopped. Currently. kids are also able to be a part of the event in a one-mile kit run held before the two-mile race. 

Baum said the event’s move to Friday from Saturday has kept more people around for area for the entire weekend.

He added the race has a significance for the Sandy Valley cross country team. 

“It’s great for the team as a fundraiser, but it also gives some publicity to the team and school,” Baum said.

As runners dash through the town square, a car show will held on Friday in the park. Trophies are awarded during the event, and the awards are distributed based on voting from participants. 

Saturdays typically begin with a children’s fishing derby at Whitacre-Greer Equestrian Park in nearby Waynesburg, Ohio. 

Children’s tractor pulls are also held on Saturdays. Welker said organizers are still trying to determine if they are able to hold a tractor pull this year.  

The festival wraps up on Sunday each year beginning with a community church service held in Magnolia Park. The signature event of each Canal Days Sunday though is a grand parade. A Magnolia citizen of the year is chosen each year, and he or she rides in the parade. 

Sundays are concluded with a Magnolia’s Got Talent pageant held in the park along with other forms of closing entertainment. 

Welker re-emphasized the overall festival is locally driven and is a central place for everyone who attends to enjoy. 

“It’s a nice safe place for the community to come and gather,” she said, “to maybe walk in the park, get something to eat and continue a tradition.”  

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