By Robert Stoneback
The Daily Item
MIFFLINBURG - While the latest winter snowstorm blacked out much of the Northeast, the dusting the Valley received was a boon for Raymond B. Winter State Park’s Snow Fest.
“There were easily 900 people there today,” said Mike Crowley, park manager. “We had nearly excellent conditions, and I think it really showed with the number.”
It was a definite improvement over last year, when a lack of snow and thinning ice on the park’s lake drew around 450.
But that’s just part of hosting Snow Fest every year, said MaryAnn Bierly, the park’s environmental education specialist.
“When we started this, we used to have snow up to our tailbones,” said Bierly, who co-founded Snow Fest with her colleagues 17 years ago.
Even when the weather hasn’t cooperated, it’s never gotten in the way of Snow Fest’s mission.
“The original concept was to get people to realize the park is open in winter and second that there are fun things you can do with your family outdoors,” Bierly said.
While the snow was only about 2.5 inches deep, there was enough for skiing, winter mountain biking, animal demonstrations and winter-themed arts and crafts.
One of the big draws, no matter the weather, is the 3.5-mile race around the park’s campground. A record-breaking 220 racers participated this year, running the course in approximately 30 degree weather. Last year saw 135 racers.
“A lot of them feel pretty good” following the race, said Natasha Rieder, one of the race directors. Soup, coffee, hot chocolate and baked goods are available for racers when they finished the course.
Finishing first this year, with a time of 24 minutes and 34 seconds, was John Johnson, of Ulster. “I like running in the snow,” he said. “The worse conditions, the better.”
This is Johnson’s second year running Snow Fest’s trail race. He and his wife, Amey, run about 30 races each year, during all seasons.
Broomball, ice harvesting and ice skating were popular activities on the park’s 6-acre lake, where the ice was about 8 inches thick.
Crystal Hughes, of Penns Creek, photographed her 6-year old nephew, Raleigh Hughes, playing goalie for the broomball game.
“This is his first time experiencing this,” she said. This is her first time at Snow Fest as well, and she was impressed by what she saw. “It’s a really good turnout,” she said.
Ice carver Phil Gajda was at work most of the day, chiseling an image of a squirrel near the park’s environmental learning center. He was joined by his daughter, Miranda, a Lewisburg High School sophomore, who was carving a heart. Each sculpture takes about four hours to complete, said Gajda, who’s been teaching his daughter since she was about 8.
The family is a regular sight at Snow Fest. “We’ve been doing it every year since about 1996, ‘97,” he said.
The sculptures will go on display in the family-owned restaurant, Vic’s Pub and the Victoria House in Lewisburg.
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