SKOWHEGAN — This year’s Moonlight Madness was a hot time in Skowtown on Thursday night.

And the madcap bed races down Water Street made it even hotter. By the time all the activities got going about 5:30 p.m., it was 87 on the bank thermometer, with the heat index well into the 90s.

Was it too hot for the 40-some-odd girls with Skowhegan Cheer Stars who were assembled in the shade by the river, waiting to perform for Moonlight Madness?

“Is it too warm out? Yes it is,” Cheer Stars coach Lorretta Gerald of Smithfield said. “But they’re going to do fantastic — not even one drop of sweat, because that’s how awesome they are.”

The cheer girls, ranging in age from pre-kindergarten to high school seniors, were preparing for their routine tossing loose glitter in their hair and applying “shimmery” spray glitter.

Gerald said the Cheer Stars are a club at the Skowhegan Parks and Recreation Department.

Hosted by the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce, the madness each year is all about children’s activities provided by Skowhegan Parks and Recreation, live music under the Big Top, numerous vendors, food trucks, and, of course, the popular bed races, in which teams of five people compete head-to-head by pushing beds on casters down Water Street.

Parks and Recreation Director Denise LeBlanc said they usually have seven teams compete in the bed races, but because of the popularity, they are up to 11 or 12 teams this year.

“That just says it’s still popular — more popular — more people; it’s been going on for years,” LeBlanc said. “It’s an annual thing that people look forward to. It’s something different and unique.”

LeBlanc said her department has been hosting the bed races for 15 years, but they also had been conducted by previous groups that put on Moonlight Madness. The racers use the same original, metal beds that have been around for years, but with the swivel wheels replaced, she said.

LeBlanc said the key to winning in the bed races comes down to the transition — when team members switch position halfway through the races.

“You obviously have to be fast,” she said. “And switching over with new riders jumping on and taking their helmets off and buckling it on quick and running back is key.”

Marcus Christopher, a Skowhegan Area High School senior football player, whose bed race team came in second last year to Team McDoubles, agreed.

“I think the transition of the helmets is pretty big,” he said. “You have to make sure you switch the helmet fast on the other end. You’ve got to pass it to another person and get going back the other way.”

Police closed off Water Street and Commercial Street as the sidewalks filled with people and the streets with booths selling cold water and popcorn with a live DJ providing the backdrop. There was a climbing wall, a bounce house and a live performance by Skowhegan punk rockers Uncle Spudd, back from a national tour that was cut short when their van died in Florida.

Chamber Director Jason Gayne said each year the event usually draws more than 10,000 people, depending on the weather. He said Thursday’s hot weather might have kept some families home early, but he expected the crowd to swell once it cooled down.

River Fest has been a lot of different things since it started more than 40 years ago.

It’s been Harvest Days, Summer Fest and, more recently, River Fest. It began in 1977 as Skowhegan Log Days to commemorate the last of the log drives down the Kennebec three years earlier, but it evolved over the years to showcase the potential of the Kennebec River Gorge as the future home of the Run of River Whitewater Recreation Area.

Log Days was discontinued in 2002 after 25 years, taking the popular Moonlight Madness with it. It was resurrected briefly in 2007 as Harvest Days by the Downtown Business Association, which later folded into Main Street Skowhegan. Then there was Summer Fest.

Now the five-day festival is a showcase for the Run of River project — the proposed $4.3 million downtown whitewater park through the Kennebec River Gorge that town officials hope carries with it an economic boon that will draw visitors and jobs to Skowhegan.

On Friday, the festivities continue with a daylong lobster feed put on by the Skowhegan Rotary Club starting at 11 a.m. under the Big Top. The Duffers and Drivers Golf Classic is scheduled for noon at Lakewood Golf Course, a book talk and signing with author R. Wesley Clement is set for 3 to 5 p.m. at the Miller’s Table Restaurant in the Somerset Grist Mill, downtown, and live music is on tap at Bigelow Brewing Co. and Bloomfield’s Tavern.

The popular Glow Stick River Run is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Friday at the U.S. Route 2 rest area east of downtown.

There will be free raft rides down the river provided by Moxie Outdoor Adventures starting at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and a volunteer “river cleanup” from 9 a.m. until noon on the shores of the Kennebec River. Family Fun Day activities are part of a full day of events Saturday set for the municipal parking lot, including a craft fair and a guided paddle down Wesserunsett Stream from 10 a.m. to noon hosted by Somerset Woods Trustees, which will host their annual cookout at the rest area on U.S. Route 2 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

There will be more live music and a public dinner in Coburn Park, under the stars, and the fireworks from the Great Eddy at 9 p.m.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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