IP celebrates winter and community
copyright the Chronicle February 14, 2018
ISLAND POND — Fat snowflakes drifted down over Island Pond as a line of snowmobilers waited their turn for the annual blessing of the snowmobiles.
Robed in white, Muriel O’Gorman touched each sled and its driver with the tip of a pine branch, and said a prayer for safe travels. It’s a ritual that Ms. O’Gorman and Jodi Gonyaw-Worth, lay worshippers from the local Episcopal Church, have been performing for years now.
It’s a peaceful contemplative thing that seemed at odds with the whine of sled engines and the haze of exhaust, but it’s a ritual that clearly meant something to the riders who waited patiently in line.
The blessing of the snowmobiles, which is sponsored by the Brighton Snowmobile Club, is just one of the faces of Island Pond’s annual winter carnival, a three-day celebration of winter and community.
Events kicked off on Friday night with a colorful snowmobile parade of lights down the main thoroughfare. And over the course of the weekend it includes everything from all-you-can-eat pancakes to wine tasting to an ice sculpture contest.
There was ice mini-golf on the tennis courts behind Sunrise Manor, the local senior living facility named for its sunrise view over the lake. There was a basketball shooting contest and a cornhole tournament. There was a chili cook-off and a broomball tournament and a karaoke contest.
Families who wanted to warm up could head into Sunrise Manor to play board games and drink hot chocolate.
For youngsters, the daytime highlight of the weekend was clearly the snow fort, a giant mountain of snow with stairs and slides and tunnels built over the previous week by volunteers for the recently formed Brighton Recreation.
Steps and slides were splashed brightly with food coloring. Nearby, for smaller children, there was a snow turtle with a waist high slide.
The day before, the snow turtle had sported a carved shell, its details enhanced with more food coloring, artfully applied.
Friday night’s snow had obscured most of the volunteer’s hard work, but that didn’t seem to bother the toddlers who climbed the pint-sized stairs and slid down the Lilliputian slide.
“We wanted to build something really great for the kids,” volunteer Heather McElroy explained. “So the town brought us some truckloads of snow, and we went to work.”
Brighton’s new recreation committee came out of the Vermont Rural Development Council’s (VRDC) community visit last year.
VRDC’s community visit program helps towns identify projects that people can do to create needed change in their towns.
“Families need more to do in Island Pond,” Ms. McElroy said. “So we came up with the idea of really putting a lot of effort into a recreation committee.”
Besides the snow playground, the recreation committee put on the mini mini-golf, board games, basketball contest, and cornhole tournament.
But it seems that the whole community was in on the act. On Saturday morning there was breakfast at the American Legion, and doughnuts and maple syrup at the library. Nearby, the NorthWoods Stewardship Center opened its lodge and trails to people who wanted to snowshoe and ski, with a guided snowshoe hike through Brighton State Park for the more athletically inclined.
The local banks sponsored the chili contest, and a local church put on sleigh rides.
Nature could have cooperated with sunshine, but it was a gray day, varying from gentle flakes to snow showers.
None of that seemed to matter. People went inside to eat or warm up, and came back out again for more.
By late afternoon, despite the increasingly heavy snowfall, there was a palpable sense of anticipation.
For families, the other big highlight of the weekend is the annual cardboard sled race.
The race is held under spotlights on Saturday night, on a steep hill just outside of town. Cars lined the roads leading to the site for blocks.
The sleds are made out of cardboard and duct tape. No other materials are allowed except for decorations.
Some youngsters built their sleds themselves, others looked like family collaborations.
Carson Lacroix of Charleston, who turns ten years old this month, took the steep hill perched atop a tiny seat mounted to a bright orange sled of his own design.
The race is in its tenth year, so to the youngsters, it’s an institution.
“I’ve been watching the race for a long time,” Carson said, with an ear-to-ear grin. “And my dad said I was old enough to do it this year.”
His family found a set of cardboard runners, meant to go under a refrigerator, in a dumpster in Newport where they were hunting for a big appliance box to cut up.
Runners may not have been the ideal thing for the soft new snow that awaited the racers on Saturday night, but Carson gave it every effort.
There were a lot of simple flat sleds in the race, rolled up in front like a toboggan. And there was a gleaming Batmobile, and a ship, and a huge ride-in snow groomer, painted red with flashing lights.
That one took Tyler Higgins and his dad, Eric Higgins, 20 hours and a reported $100 worth of duct tape to make.
“But it was all Tyler’s idea,” his father said.
Tyler was inspired by family friend Bobby Tower, who drives a snow groomer, and by the recent death of snowmobiler Dave Page, an Essex County Vermont Association of Snow Travelers director and a member of the Brighton Snowmobile Club.
When Tyler’s mammoth sled went off course the first time down, it took a team of men to push it back to the top.
He made it to the bottom on the second try, but by that time someone had brought a set of moving straps to help drag it to the top again.
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