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Harnessing the holiday spirit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Lynn Hinkle is a contender when it comes to the harness racing barn holiday decoration contest at the State Fair of West Virginia fairgrounds.

Under the name of her family's construction company, H&H Developers, she won the contest the first year it was held three years ago with a gingerbread house theme. "My son and husband actually shingled the barn with faux-leather shingles. It was really elaborate."

Last year, she came in second with the creation of two larger-than-life Nutcrackers made out of PVC pipe and featuring sewn costumes along with the reproduction of a castle door.

This year, her barn scene depicts the Star of David and two wooden angels announcing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. She collected Styrofoam all year round and hand-cut and painted about a hundred faux stones "so it looks like a wall of stones around Bethlehem," said the retired elementary schoolteacher.

"I guess this year I was just inspired to do something more religious because of so much unrest. We really need something to remind people that we need peace and 'the reason for the season' -- I love that phrase. I hope when people drive by it serves as a reminder to keep Christmas in their hearts."

Lighting up the harness racing horse barns at the State Fair of West Virginia fairgrounds is the renewal of a tradition that lasted up until the late 1980s by the Fairlea Merchants Association. After the group disbanded, the barns went dark during the holiday season, said State Fair CEO Marlene Pierson-Joliffe.

"A couple years ago, in thinking how the fairground could enhance our decorating, I thought it would be appropriate to bring the contest back," she said.

"It's great visually because the harness racing barns line the 219 highway."

They now put the word out annually for participants. They take the first 10 groups who call. "We've had 4H groups, church groups -- we have more group affiliations than individuals. It has been a good community event."

There are three top prizes ($300, $200 and $100) and people can vote on a People's Choice favorite by voting on the State Fair's Facebook page, www.facebook.com/statefairofwv.

The participants provide their own materials, and there are no limits on what they can pour into their efforts.

It's worth making the trip to see the show, Pierson-Joliffe said. "For folks who may not live in the Lewisburg area, if they find themselves driving through, it's worth the three-mile trip around to Fairlea to see the barns."

Groups participating this year include State Fair of West Virginia, H&H Developers, Ronceverte Lions Club, 2nd Look Thrift & Gift Store, Greenbrier Roller Vixens,  WV Waggin' Tails 4-H Club, Jim's Drive In "Cruisin for a Cure" Relay Team (for the American Cancer Society), Greenbrier East High School engineering class, Lewisburg Longhorns 4-H Club and Brooks Family Show Pigs.

Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.


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