BELPRE - The 78th annual Belpre Homecoming kicked off the festival season Thursday with entertainment and the Little Miss and Mister pageant at Civitan Park.
"The rain has passed, there's a wonderful breeze and everything is going great," said Teresa Turner, Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce president. "We are really focusing on the theme of Belpre Homecoming as a tradition, and we want to keep that tradition alive. After last year's homecoming, we were flooded with letters and cards from people expressing their appreciation for this event. It's something we all look forward to."
Live entertainment, pageants, carnival rides and food vendors attract thousands to Belpre Homecoming each year. To kick it up a notch, chamber of commerce members added the Wheelie Wizzard to today's and Saturday's entertainment schedule.
"The entertainment is great, and we actually have more food vendors this year," she said.
More than 20 non-food vendors and 22 food vendors line Civitan Park this year, selling everything from frozen lemonades and ice cream to funnel cakes and fried Snickers bars.
"There's something for everyone," Turner said. "With tonight being opening night, we've already got a crowd gathering in front of the gazebo for the Little Miss and Mister Pageant. There are always a lot of people who come early and set up their chairs."
Danielle Dowler, pageant director, said the new Little Miss and Mister will represent the city of Belpre by attending local fairs and parades.
"This is a great show, especially for the parents," Dowler said. "People love it because children are unpredictable. They don't have filters; they say whatever they want to say and don't try to sugar coat it."
The number of contestants for Little Mister was down this year, but Dowler said the pageant went as planned and all the contestants had fun.
Arianna Nedeff became the new Little Miss Belpre, with Nisha Hart as the first runnerup and Emilie Bever as second runnerup. Che Jackson was crowned Little Mister Belpre. Nedeff also won the title of Miss Congeniality, with Che Jackson as Mr. Congeniality. Hart was named Miss Photogenic.
Terri Taylor, a Belpre resident for 10 years, said she tries to attend Belpre Homecoming every year for opening night.
"Having the pageant and a great opening entertainment act on the first night brings a big crowd," she said. "I end up seeing a lot of old friends here. It's a neat way to catch up with people I haven't seen for years."
Julie Gould of Marietta attended Thursday for the entertainment.
"The local talent is great. We've been looking forward to South of the River Band on Friday," Gould said. "It's just a great atmosphere. Belpre is a close-knit community, and this is a great small-town event."
Today's activities include 5 p.m., Cruise In at Civitan Park; 6 p.m., Junior Miss Belpre Pageant in the gazebo; 7:30 p.m., Hard Drive on the main stage, and 9:15 p.m., South of the River Band on the main stage.