Rick Hiduk Winter 2015
While the snow and chilly temperatures of winter send many to raise the thermostat or search for their Snuggies, a growing number of communities in northern Pennsylvania embrace Old Man Winter and celebrate the coldest time of the year with festivities geared toward families.
“We do it to get people outdoors to enjoy a winter weekend,” said Clearfield YMCA CEO Don Herres, who has been coordinating the Y’s Winter Family Festival for the past 15 years. “We do it to keep the kids active building snowmen and sledding.”
Those are but a few of the activities offered at more than a half-dozen such festivals that stretch across the commonwealth’s highest and most remote hilltops from the Pennsylvania Wilds and Allegheny National Forest in the northwest to the Endless Mountains range in the northeast. The festivals range from one to three days, and each offers a unique take on the definition of winter fun.
Nature walks and exhibits, food vendors, snowmobiling, ice fishing and skating, and cold water plunges have become staples of the events, the latter providing as much fun for spectators as for participants.
“I tell them that it will take their breath away,” Cindi McCarty, coordinator of the Sullivan County Kiwanis Winterfest, said of prepping the Polar Bear Plungers she leads to the water’s edge each year. “I jump first and help to get everybody else out.”
The Sullivan County event, which will expand to two days in 2015, is a major fundraiser for the Kiwanis Club. Profits from the event benefit local children through the distribution of funds for programs and activities that youths in isolated regions might not otherwise experience.
Some winter festival organizers admit that their events are not big moneymakers but rather a way to give back to their respective communities, attract tourists, and provide a cure for cabin fever for local residents.
The origins of such festivals vary, with some events boasting decades of history and others being popular revivals of century-old wintertime pastimes in their respective communities. Most are situated inside of or adjacent to state and national forests and recreation trails, which brings guests and nature together in a memorable way.
The granddaddy of all winter festivals in terms of longevity and length is the Warren County Winterfest, which will run from Friday to Sunday, Jan. 16 to 18, 2015.
According to Ed Atwood, who coordinates the event with his brother, Walt, the event began in 1979 with dog sled races in Chapman State Park near Clarendon. The event quickly grew in popularity, and about five years later, the carnival elements that include an ice skating exhibition, a geocaching competition, and an outhouse race were added. Dog sledding and other canine contests remain the staple of festivities, which can draw as many as 4,500 visitors over the course of the weekend.
Obviously, winter’s fickleness can produce unseasonably mild weather or no snow, so all activities are contingent on what Mother Nature bestows. Mild weather, however, doesn’t necessarily spell disaster for a winter festival.
“One year, the temperatures went up into the 50s, and everyone came out because it was such a nice day,” related Bob Snyder, one of the organizers of the Marienville Winterfest in Forest County.
Regardless of the weather at the point of departure, it is prudent to have sturdy waterproof footwear and to dress in layers that can be easily removed or put back on, as conditions can change quickly in the mountains.
The following list of five winter festivals in northern Pennsylvania includes 2015 dates, locations, highlights, and links to additional information if available. (Schedules can be altered up to the date of the events due to fluctuations in sponsorship and staffing.)
Warren County Winterfest, Chapman State Park near Clarendon from Friday to Sunday, Jan. 16 to 18: snowmobiling on the Allegheny National Forest Snowmobile Loop, a Polar Bear Plunge, dog sled races, canine weight pulls, sled riding hill, skating rink, toboggan races, ice fishing, cardboard box derby, skijoring, and a pond hockey tournament. Follow “Warren County Winterfest” on Facebook.
Marienville Winterfest, MACA Park, Pine Street in Marienville in Forest County on Saturday, Jan. 24, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.: snow sculpting, scavenger hunt, chili cook-off, cake and cookie baking contests, children’s games and coloring contest, Chinese auction, bingo and giveaways, sky lantern release, and snowmobile torchlight parade.
Clearfield YMCA Winter Family Festival, Parker Dam State Park near Penfield in Clearfield County on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 24 and 25, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: snowmobile fun run – a guided snowmobile tour for properly permitted snowmobiles, blizzard volleyball tournament, learn to skate program, ice fishing, snow shoe walks, winter survival and wildlife demonstrations, snow sculpturing, old-fashioned ice block cutting demonstration, Snowbox Derby, salami sling, the Almost-Naked Mile Run, and a Polar Bear Plunge.
Raymond B. Winter State Park Snowfest, 17215 Buffalo Road, near Mifflinburg in Union County on Sunday, Feb. 8, noon to 4 p.m.: winter outdoor recreation for families such as ice skating, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, snowmobile racing, and broomball, as well as interpretive nature programs, wildlife watching and tracking, ice sculpting and ice cutting demonstrations, and make-and-take activities for children. More information will be available by mid-January at www.dcnr.state.pa.us under R.B. Winter State Park.
Kiwanis Winterfest, Camp Brulé, 2559 North St., near Forksville in Sullivan County on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 14 and 15, starting at 10 a.m.: human dog sled races, sled dog demonstrations, ice carvers, fireworks, ice fishing tournament, ice skating and sledding into the evening, Primitive Biathlon, muzzle loader shoot, tomahawk throw, and a Polar Bear Plunge.