E very February, hundreds of people gather in a rural community and wait for a small furry creature to emerge from its winter hibernation and … kick off the Woodchuck Festival and Firemen’s Games, of course.
Punxsutawney Phil takes a back seat to “W.P.” Woodchuck in the Lakes Region. Besides who needs a groundhog to tell us there’s going to be six more weeks of winter? We only need to look outside to verify that.
The eighth annual Woodchuck Festival and Firemen’s Games will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Mettawee Community School on Vt. Route 153 in West Pawlet.
The annual festival features the Woodchuck Rescue Challenge, an Indoor Marketplace, a silent auction, food, games, and one of the most unique variations of bingo most people have ever seen.
The main event of the festival is the Woodchuck Rescue Challenge, a hands-on competitive training event where area fire departments race to complete an obstacle course carrying a stretcher and dummy while putting out fires, and crawling over, under and through obstacles.
The annual event features several local fire departments and is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. in the field across from the school.
Before the challenge, however, patrons will have a variety of activities and events to choose from headquartered in and around the school.
Inside the school, patrons will find the Vendor Marketplace, which showcases more than 30 regional vendors, including wildlife photographers, potters, jewelers, handcrafted items, antiques, and a variety of specialty foods.
The marketplace will also feature festival artist Roy Egg, who will be showing off his latest collection of woodchuck paintings.
Parents can keep children entertained with a number of activities, including face painting by local artist Heidi Hammell, and a Woodchuck coloring contest with Adele Seamans. The contest will be judged by Egg at 2 p.m.
Kids will also have the chance to chat and have their pictures taken with W.P. Woodchuck, the festival’s official mascot.
The festival also features the West Pawlet Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary Silent Auction throughout the day. Bidding is set to close at 2 p.m.
Other activities include live music from Woodchuck’s Revenge, the West Pawlet versus the World Tug of War Contest, a variety of food in the Woodchuck Café, and the newly expanded cow plop bingo. “We’ve changed to two grids this year, with two cows,” said Leach.
This year Blizzard will be joined by Sunday and spectators will have the chance to win one of two jackpot specials.
This year’s bingo will feature 200 squares available at $5 each. Anyone looking to purchase a square in advance (they almost always sell out), can call Harley Stearns at 645-1977.
Don Pierson of Northeast Fire Extinguisher Service will also be on hand to demonstrate how to properly use an extinguisher using PASS: pull, aim, squeeze and sweep. He’ll have extinguishers for sale and will have the capability to recharge old ones.
The fireman’s games remain the focus of the event, however.
West Pawlet Fire Chief David Hosley said the event was initially inspired by firemen musters that used to be held throughout the area in the summer.
“They’ve kind of faded off; I’d like to see them come back,” he said. “This is kind of our take on those. It’s just a light-hearted, fun event and a good way for us to come together and work together.”
Although the event is intended to be fun and an opportunity for different departments to come together, it’s a useful tool in building teamwork and camaraderie.
“It’s all about teamwork. It’s not a high skills event; it’s a teamwork event,” Hosley explained.
Hosley said he’s expecting several more competitors this year and has already gotten commitments from several area fire departments, including Rupert, Wells, Middle Granville, N.Y., and two teams from West Pawlet. “Granville usually has a team as well. They’re always trying to figure out how to beat the system,” Hosley joked.
Local fire departments can enter the event by calling Ken at 353-0705.
Spectators are encouraged to dress warmly. Admission to the festival is free and proceeds from the event benefit the West Pawlet Fire Department.
“Come and watch and cheer on your favorite fire department. It’s a lot of fun,” Hosley said.