Every winter, bigger and better winter festivals are rolled out somewhere in Maine. Outdoor gatherings are more in vogue today than ever, with state parks, land trusts and cities promoting frozen family fun and snow carnivals.

Waterville is one example of the growing interest here.

Four years ago, Waterville held its first modern winter carnival and it didn’t even have a name. But two years ago, organizers rolled out a half-dozen fat bikes (big-tired, big-wheeled snow climbers made for the tundra), as well as a laser biathlon demonstration and snowshoe races, and at last year’s, some 800 strong turned out.

This year, Waterville’s winter carnival, at the up-and-coming Quarry Road Recreation Area on Feb. 4, is expected to be even better.

For one, the fat bike demo has turned into a fat bike race on a 1-mile course, with a one-lap contest for beginners and a more grueling cross country race for veteran fat bike riders.

Other details are being worked out, and interested riders should look for more information at www.cemenemba.org, but race participation is expected to be high. And as before, fat bike demos will be offered.

“Last year they held a survey at the carnival, and 46 or 56 people said they came just for the fat bikes. There was a lot of interest,” said Brian Alexander, president of the Central Maine Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association and a member of the Friends of Quarry Road.

The sport of fat bikes is so new here, it’s doubtful an organized race has ever been held in Maine, Alexander said.

“I’ll have to think about that. Maybe we should play that up,” he said.

But the carnival will be a mix of old and new sports.

Also featured will be the laser biathlon demos and an “amazing tree maze,” as well as snowshoe races and walking tours.

The Friends of Quarry Road, along with the Waterville Parks and Recreation Department, the Central Maine Ski Club, the Central Maine NEMBA chapter and other local clubs, has worked to develop the trail system at Quarry Road.

There currently is a 4-kilometer ski trail for beginners, and a new 5-kilometer ski trail for advanced skiers.

“We put it out there for people to come see where these trails are. It’s going to be a world-class recreational ski area. There are competition-quality trails now,” said Ellen Wells, the community wellness coordinator at Inland Hospital and another member of the friends group.

They also hope to add a lodge at the Quarry Road Recreation Area to spawn more outdoor gatherings and groups. So the winter carnival is an important part of spreading awareness and growing interest.

As at last year’s event, a banquet of free food donated by local vendors and restaurants will be provided. And a free shuttle service will be offered from neighboring parking lots.

For more information, call 680-4744.


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