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Published: Sunday, 7/14/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

‘BIGGER AND BIGGER’

Festival celebrates, helps to preserve Toledo lighthouse

Music, arts and crafts, and silent auction enliven annual fund-raiser

BY LORENZO LIGATO
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Local artist Gail Wonnell, left, from Sylvania, helps customer Dave Haber, right, from Medina, Ohio, with her art pieces. Local artist Gail Wonnell, left, from Sylvania, helps customer Dave Haber, right, from Medina, Ohio, with her art pieces.
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Five miles north off the shores of Maumee Bay State Park, the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse rises 64 feet above Lake Erie’s wind-wrinkled waves like a boat anchored in the distance.

With the Romanesque-style landmark in the distance, thousands of lake enthusiasts and local families swarmed to the scenic Maumee Bay shores Saturday to celebrate the historic lighthouse at the 10th annual Toledo Lighthouse Waterfront Festival.

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The two-day, outdoor festival began in 2004 in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 400-square-foot lighthouse, which was completed in May, 1904. The festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, is free, but organizers are encouraging a $2 donation.

With its buff brick and rolled-edge steel roof, the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse stands guard over the Toledo shipping channel, where the waters of Lake Erie meet the shores of Maumee Bay, said Sandy Bihn, president of the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse Preservation Society.

“The lighthouse is a landmark of one of the most important parts of Lake Erie, both for the economy and the ecology of the area,” Ms. Bihn said.

If you go:

10th annual Toledo Lighthouse Waterfront Festival

When: Today, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Maumee Bay State Park

Admission: Free. A $2 per person donation is encouraged.

Highlights: Musical performances, silent auction, sand castle contest, more than 60 local vendors.

One of the goals of the festival is to collect money for the preservation and restoration of the 109-year-old lighthouse, a project that will cost between $1.5 million and $2 million, according to Ms. Bihn. About a year and a half ago, the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse Preservation Society received a $500,000 federal transportation enhancement grant through the Toledo Metropolitan Council of Governments that required a $138,000 match. So far, the society has raised a total of more than $50,000, primarily from donations collected during the annual two-day festival.

Last year’s festival, for example, grossed about $18,000, when more than 4,000 visitors converged on the Maumee Bay shores, Ms. Bihn said.

“Every year, the festival gets bigger and bigger,” she said. “When we started the preservation society 10 years ago, we were only 10 people. Today we have over 400 members.”

The festival kicked off Saturday with a series of musical performances by the Genoa American Legion Band and other local groups, a silent auction, a sand castle contest, and more than 60 local vendors dotting the shores of Maumee Bay State Park. The activities will continue through this afternoon.

Maumee Bay Lodge team Kylee Ault, 19, left, Jamie Burchell, 26, center, and Alana Snow, right, 19, create a turtle sandcastle for the sand castle contest. Maumee Bay Lodge team Kylee Ault, 19, left, Jamie Burchell, 26, center, and Alana Snow, right, 19, create a turtle sandcastle for the sand castle contest.
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Among the vendors, Gail Wonnell, a Sylvania-based artist, exhibited her collection of lighthouse-themed paintings on stoneware. For Ms. Wonnell, who has participated in the festival since its inception, the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse has been a recurring theme and a source of inspiration for many of her hand-painted artworks.

“I’m drawn to the lake and the lighthouse. I can paint the same subject over and over again, but it’s never the same because the light is always different,” Ms. Wonnell said.

Because of an unfavorable northeast wind, the scheduled boat tours to the lighthouse were canceled Saturday, generating mild disappointment for some.

Gerrie Kucharski, a lifetime Toledo resident who has visited lighthouses in Florida, Michigan, and South Carolina, said she will return to the festival today to get a chance to take a closer look at the Toledo lighthouse.

For Mr. Kucharski, the view of the lighthouse is a delight that “is hard to beat,” even if only from afar.

“I told my grandkids, why do you have to go to Cedar Point when you can come to Maumee Bay?” she said.

Contact Lorenzo Ligato at: lligato@theblade.com or 419-724-6091.


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