- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Imagine a candy factory that’s entirely edible. There are licorice chutes, and chewing gum bricks, M&M; walls and Chiclet windows, even colored coconut floors. Sounds like something out of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” right?

Except that this factory is more fact than fiction.

The real-life craveable creation was designed, baked and decorated by 10-year-old Katie Nesselrode, and it won her second place in the child division in the Blennerhassett Hotel’s third annual Gingerbread Contest.

“There’s candy everywhere,” she said.

Nesselrode began planning her entry for the competition in mid-October - a prime time for candy collection.

“I was so worried I wasn’t going to find a gingerbread house,” she said. “I didn’t know which one to pick, there were so many.”

She finally decided on a design after browsing through Pinterest, and spent about a week and a half constructing her entry.

“I did most of it by myself,” Nesselrode said. “The most difficult part was making the gingerbread and the icing.”

This year was Nesselrode’s third time participating in the contest. She placed third in her division in 2013 for her traditional gingerbread house, and was awarded most creative last year for her “Santa on the Beach.” This year, her dreamy candy factory earned her a second place prize.

“I’m already working on my plan for next year,” she said.

Held after the Blennerhassett Hotel’s annual Festival of Trees, the Gingerbread Contest, sponsored by First Neighborhood Bank, challenges all ages to play with their food and try their hand at candy construction.

“It’s a great community event,” Nicole Slattery, marketing manager, said. “We have a local draw not only in participants, but in foot traffic as well. People like to come in whether they’re on their lunch break and they work downtown or they make it a destination to come on the weekend with their families.”

A total of 60 houses were entered in this year’s competition.

“It’s really hard to even pick a favorite house,” Cam Huffman, director of sales and marketing, said. “They are very unique. Some are themed; some are traditional. I do not envy the judges at all. The caliber - even in the children’s division - goes up every year.”

“There are houses where the tops will open up or the backs will open up,” Slattery said. “They’re not just building on the outside. They’re now building on the inside and backside. It’s 360 degrees. They’re all amazing.”

Entries are divided into seven divisions: professional (cake decorators, bakers, chefs, previous year adult category winners), adult (21 and over), young adult (16-20), Junior (11-15), Child (10 and under) and Schools and Employees (Blennerhassett Hotel and First Neighborhood Bank).

For some, like Austin Hill, 19, who placed second in the young adult division, decorating runs in the family.

“This was my first year, but my Mom did it last year,” he said. “It just seemed like a lot of fun.”

Sandy Morgenstern, Austin’s mom, won second in the adult division in 2014 and first in the professional division this year.

Awards were announced on December 12. More than $7,000 in prizes were given, which included gift baskets for child division winners and donations for school winners.

A panel of eight judges chose first, second and third place winners for each division. Criteria included originality/creativity, overall appearance, choice and use of materials and difficulty of design.

“Everything had to be edible, and no kits were allowed except for kids,” Slattery said. Major components had to be constructed out of gingerbread, and no graham crackers were allowed.

Awards for most unique, best use of candy, most traditional and other categories were also given.

Contest entries will be up for viewing until December 28. During that time, the public can vote for their favorite by making a monetary donation in the corresponding banks. Donations are tallied throughout the competition, and the creation with the most money at the end of the competition is deemed the People’s Choice winner. Proceeds are donated to Wood County Habitat for Humanity.

“It gives us another opportunity to give back to the community,” Huffman said. The competition raised about $800 for the organization last year.

“We look forward to doing it again next year,” Huffman said.

For more information on the Blennerhassett Hotel Gingerbread Contest, visit www.theblennerhassett.com/events/3rd-annual-gingerbread-contest or call 304-422-3131.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, https://wvgazettemail.com.

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