SOUTH PORTLAND — The warm-up hut at the WinterFest stood empty Saturday morning.
Instead, everyone was outside, reveling in the near “tropical” weather after enduring weeks of frigid cold and wind. No one huddled around the fire pits. Skaters were seen frolicking in short sleeves.
Hundreds of people turned out at the two-day free festival, which included a candlelight walk through Knightville and a skating party at Mill Creek Park on Friday. The festival continued Saturday at the Wainwright Farms Recreation Complex off Highland Avenue, where spectators watched sculptors fashion hunks of ice into pieces of art, sampled free hot chocolate and cheered on dozens of competitors lined up for the turkey curling contest.
By 11 a.m. Saturday, Tony Wagner, a co-organizer, was calling the festival a success.
“We are going to make this annual,” said Wagner.
The free festival was organized by the Rotary Club of South Portland-Cape Elizabeth and the South Portland Parks and Recreation Department, with more than 20 local businesses taking part.
It grew out of a Rotary winter festival two years ago at Mill Creek Park. Wagner said his organization jumped at the chance to revive that first festival with help from the recreation department. He said expanding the festival to several different locations in South Portland helped draw spectators from surrounding areas.
“We love to be outside as much as possible,” said Zak Wieluns of Portland.
Wieluns – accompanied by his wife, Lenka, and daughter, Emma, 1 – said the festival provided the perfect excuse to get out and participate in winter activities.
“We go out every day,” said Lenka Wieluns.
While the snow was too icy for any serious snow sculpting, there was enough for cross-country skiing and snow shoeing events. The ice at the new $15,000 rink at Wainwright, donated by the Soucy family of Port Harbor Marine at Spring Point, filled with skaters and non-skaters.
Karl Deuben of Scarborough ventured onto the ice with sons Walker, 2, and Jackson, 5, slipping and sliding their way across in winter boots.
“It’s nice to get outside,” said Deuben.
Children lined up for a chance to hurl a frozen turkey across the ice in the turkey curling contest. Wagner said the turkey was downsized from a 20-plus-pound bird after competitors had difficulty hoisting it at the festival two years ago. This time competitors slung 8-pound frozen turkey breasts across the ice.
“I kind of stepped and rocked back and forth,” said Ellie Gagne, 9, of Cape Elizabeth.
Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: