South Portland Winter Carnival is coming, even if winter isn’t

Mike Glass of South Portland Public Works gets a ride down a snowy stretch of Thomas Knight Park courtesy of the Parks and Recreation Department's Mike Hebert Thursday afternoon February 16, 2012 while testing the &quothuman dogsled" track. The pair have no plans to enter Saturday's Winter Festival race, though Hebert had second thoughts following his first test run. &quotAfter that, I don't know," he said.
Mike Glass of South Portland Public Works gets a ride down a snowy stretch of Thomas Knight Park courtesy of the Parks and Recreation Department's Mike Hebert Thursday afternoon February 16, 2012 while testing the "human dogsled" track. The pair have no plans to enter Saturday's Winter Festival race, though Hebert had second thoughts following his first test run. "After that, I don't know," he said. Buy Photo
Posted Feb. 16, 2012, at 7:43 p.m.
A tractor spreads snow at Thomas Knight Park in South Portland Thursday February 16, 2012 in preparation for Winter Festival activities including a &quothuman dogsled race" on Saturday.
A tractor spreads snow at Thomas Knight Park in South Portland Thursday February 16, 2012 in preparation for Winter Festival activities including a "human dogsled race" on Saturday. Buy Photo

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — South Portland Rotarians spent months plotting a special February weekend of outdoor activities to help residents make the best of the cold and snowy weather.

Now if only the cold and snowy weather would arrive.

Already postponed from its originally scheduled launch the weekend of Feb. 3, the South Portland Winter Festival will be held this weekend even if it does end up looking more like springtime, organizers say.

Ice hockey games may have to be put on Rollerblades and pavement, while the “turkey curling” event could be changed into a rubber chicken ring toss if the pond in Mill Creek Park doesn’t firm up soon, said Dan Mooers of the Rotary Club of South Portland-Cape Elizabeth and head event planner.

For the snowshoeing, snowman building and human dog sled racing — that’s humans pulling dog sleds, by the way — South Portland Public Works and Recreation Department employees trucked the white stuff to Mill Creek and Thomas Knight parks. All they could find, anyway.

Mike Glass, a heavy equipment operator on-site at Thomas Knight Park Thursday afternoon in the shadow of the Casco Bay Bridge, watched as a co-worker smoothed out a path of packed, imported snow for this weekend’s winter celebrants. He said he never expected to have so much trouble finding snow and ice in Maine in February.

Even a storm forecast to hit the state this weekend is expected to be mostly rain in South Portland, Glass said.

“We were worried about where to get the snow from,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot around. Our snow dump is pretty much bare right now. The sun has been so intense.”

Mooers, who arrived on the scene with a dog sled on rent from the Vassalboro-based MaineMade Dogsleds in the back of his pickup truck, was optimistic the Winter Festival still will be able to capture some of the brisk outdoor spirit of Maine’s darkest season.

“It’s going to look like a Winter Festival once we get it all spread around,” he said before only partially joking, “if the 50-degree weather doesn’t melt it all in the meantime.”

The weekend extravaganza was hatched more than a year ago as Rotarians brainstormed ways to celebrate the local organization’s 50th anniversary, Mooers said. The group agreed to raise funds for a new skate shelter for Mill Creek Park, and thought a big snowman-building contest might be a good way. Another member mentioned the human dog sledding, and ideas began to snowball — pun intended — until a whole weekend of activities was on the docket.

Then the Rotarians started pounding the pavement, and between sponsorships and program advertisements, local businesses pitched in $24,000, covering the cost of both the skate shelter and the Winter Festival.

But no amount of money could promise a natural coat of snow.

“Now we’ve got a free event where all the kids can come out and have winter fun in their T-shirts,” Mooers said.

If the lack of winter gives pause to potential festival-goers, Mooers said he hopes the $7,000 in prizes to be doled out across two days of contests and activities will nudge folks toward coming out and joining the fun.

The festival begins at 5 p.m. Friday with a candle-lighting ceremony on the corner of Broadway and Ocean Street. Snowman building gets under way at 9 a.m. Saturday at Mill Creek Park, with preschool-age games held at 10 a.m. nearby. A horse-drawn “shuttle” will be available to trot participants back and forth between there and Thomas Knight Park, where snowshoeing and the human dog sledding take place. For a link to the event schedule and more information about the festival, visit the South Portland Winter Festival Facebook page.

“We’re just going to have a good time,” Mooers said. “We’re going to have a ball.”

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