By Jim Sullivan
---- — Editor's note: This event has been postponed to Saturday, Jan. 25.
After two years off, the Newburyport Winter Carnival is set to make its return to the Bartlet Mall this weekend.
“Sharpen your skates up,” said David Keery, the former Newburyport parks commissioner.
Keery, a member of the Frog Pond Skating Club, was part of a group that cleared the pond’s ice with the use of an all-terrain vehicle and tractor over the past week.
“We are really thrilled that the snow that we got was so light that we were able to clear it off,” he said. “We were able to push pretty much all of it off the pond just in time for the rain to Zamboni the ice for us.”
Sidelined by warm weather in 2012 and a blizzard in 2013, the carnival will once again make good use of the mall’s Frog Pond for all-day open skating, sledding and snowboarding. This year, it looks like the skating will be a big draw.
“It’s going to be nice ice,” said Lise Reid, parks administrator for the Newburyport Parks Commission. “There is a lot of snow gone. We are working on creating a sledding hill by importing snow. We’re not sure what will be here, but we know we will have ice.”
Perhaps the carnival’s biggest highlight is the Human Dog Sled Race, which features teams of four people or less (the dogs) who pull one team member (the driver) in a race with the other teams across the pond. Currently in its fifth year, the race is quite a fan favorite.
“It’s open to all ages,” Reid said. “We’ve had kids. We’ve had people show up with metal cleats on. It’s always lots of fun, and you never really know who is going to win. That year we had the guys with the cleats on, I thought for sure that they would win, but some kids won. It’s always a big surprise.”
Organized by the parks commission and Newburyport Youth Services, the carnival is sponsored by the Institution for Savings and will run Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free horse-drawn hayrides courtesy of Scott Colby will also circle the pond, while local radio station WNBP will provide winter music. Free hot cocoa and cookies will be available for kids of all ages.
“I’ve had people lamenting the fact for two years now that the carnival was canceled,” Reid said. “The weather is cooperating, at least partially, and it is such a wonderful surprise to get out in the wintertime and realize that the parks are still there in the wintertime and still provide a wonderful place to get out and recreate and enjoy the outdoors.”
Reid said that commission members are keeping a close eye on the weather forecast, which calls for showers on Saturday. If they choose to postpone, the event will instead be held on Saturday, Jan. 25.
Keery, along with Andy Hawkes and Patty Spaulding, was part of the committee that created the first carnival in 2005 in an attempt to pump some life into the mall during the coldest time of the year.
“We didn’t want it to be really commercial in any way,” Keery said of that carnival, which took place directly after a 2-foot snowstorm. “We wanted it to be completely for Newburyport folks to come out and just get out of the house in the middle of winter and enjoy kind of a day out on the pond.”
“Most people are residents,” Reid said. “But some people do come in from out of town. It is, from my experience, a tremendous community-building event in Newburyport.”
The popularity of the carnival has ebbed and flowed along with the weather, but this year’s chill should give the mall and the skating club a chance to shine once again.
“The Frog Pond Skating Club is absolutely key to making this happen,” Reid said. “We need the ice to be in good shape for this event, and they are the ones who make it happen.”
Members of the club were out on the pond during last Thursday’s storm, working in two-hour shifts to plow the snow.
“They are the ones who have fallen through the ice in the past at midnight, trying to keep the ice clear,” Reid said. “And they are out there in the freezing cold hosing down the ice with fire hoses. We owe them a great deal of gratitude.”
If you go
What: Winter Carnival
When: Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Rain date Jan. 25.
Where: Bartlet Mall, corner of Pond and High streets, Newburyport
How much: Free
More information: 978-465-4462 or email@example.com