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Shep Stubbs, 4, from Warrenton, watches a model train pass as he holds his own Thomas the Tank Engine toy, Saturday. His mother said he looks forward to their regular train rides to New York each month.

The end of COVID-19 restrictions was enjoyed by many families at Harris Pavilion on Saturday as the Manassas Heritage Railway Festival returned for the 26th time after being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Manassas Mayor Michelle Davis-Younger was on hand to greet attendees, and when asked whether Manassas is open again, she roared, “YES! It is!”

She noted that the previous night was the city’s first “First Friday” event after restrictions were lifted. “The streets in Old Town were packed – people were wall-to-wall and having a wonderful time… People are excited.”

While the railway festival usually includes Amtrak train rides for visitors, those were not possible this year, but toddlers were still able to enjoy rides in a small train along the streets of Old Town.

Model train clubs from the region were on hand and created six large layouts in the pavilion, with freight and passenger trains passing through small towns, as train fans – young and old – watched in admiration.

More than a year ago, Manassas resident Colette Sciscico bonded with her 8-year old grandson, Dominic, by bringing him to the train station, saying that he loves everything about trains.

“As I was babysitting him, we’d come down here and watch the VRE and Amtrak come through. We’d sit on the platform and talk with the conductors,” Sciscico said. “From my house, you can hear the train whistle, so when he’s at my house, he’d tell me ‘the train’s coming!’”

Dominic’s additional love of Legos brought him straight to the large Lego train layout, where he was riveted by the action.

“He’s been talking for weeks about the train festival,” Sciscico said.

Meanwhile, 4-year-old Shep Stubbs from Warrenton stood at a model train layout, clutching his Thomas the Tank Engine toy in one hand, as his mother explained that they take the train to New York City a couple times a month. She said he looks forward to every trip.

Davis-Younger said she is excited to see the city emerge from COVID restrictions.

“We’re so happy! This event for families is what we love.”

Paul Lara covers the military beat. Reach him at plara@insidenova.com

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