WESTBROOK – Whether bundled in heavy jackets, wetsuits or running gear, everyone was wearing a smile at last weekend’s first Westbrook Winter West Fest.

The festival, which officials estimate drew a few thousand people, included events such as dog sled races, hockey tournaments, kayaking on the Presumpscot River, a 5K run, snow sculpturing and even a few impromptu snowball fights.

“I was thrilled, I thought it was fabulous. I got to go to as many events as I could,” said Mayor Colleen Hilton on Saturday, adding that she thought the event helped stimulate the local economy.

“I was really proud to be from Westbrook this weekend. Especially for the first one, I feel we really hit it out of the ballpark,” she said.

Bill Baker, Westbrook’s assistant city administrator for business and community relations, said he estimated there were a few thousand people in attendance.

“Clearly there was a beneficial impact on businesses in the downtown area and that’s really what we were hoping for,” Baker said.

Town officials weren’t the only ones excited by the high turnout and what that could mean for future winter events.

“A lot of people were walking around downtown. It was a much more vibrant vibe than normal,” said Andrew Warren, owner of Catbird Creamery, a Main Street ice cream shop.

Seanu Anne, owner of the Dancing Elephant, an Indian restaurant on Main Street, said while he did not see much of a hike in clientele over the course of the weekend, he still hopes more events continue in the downtown area.

“We saw a little more activity in the early afternoon on Saturday. As far as dinner, it was pretty consistent. We always want more events like this in the area,” Anne said.

Residents were equally excited to see more people out and about on the city’s streets.

“It’s a great opportunity for the community to get together. We love the Together Days in the summer. This is like the Together Day in the winter,” said Lynn Aceto. “It can be a long winter if you don’t get out and stay active.”

Aceto and her husband Vincent spent Saturday afternoon watching the dog sled races. Teams of six, four and three-dog sleds raced around a track at Sunset Ridge Golf Links. Skijoring, where teams of one and two dogs pull racers on skis, was also a part of the golf courses activities. The New England Sled Dog Club races were one of the biggest draws of the weekend.

Kayleigh DiMaggio, 10, grew up with dog sledding in her blood. She’s been driving for her grandparents, who are members of the New England Sled Dog Club, for more than a year and took part in the first heat of the three-dog juniors division.

“I like all of it, it’s just really fun. I love doing it but sometimes I get scared,” she said.

Another attraction that brought out spectators was the kayakers’ ride down the Presumpscot River falls near Sacarrappa Park. Rob Mitchell, a local business owner and avid kayaker who is a proponent of more recreational use of the river, and four other kayakers were all riding the falls to show support and to get exposure for the waterfront.

Before entering the water, the group watched as the ice was broken up by two Westbrook Fire and Rescue volunteers in one of the city’s two rescue boats, as part of training and safety service for the event.

Kayaker Chuck Mathieu said the kayakers don’t mind the cold water because of their wetsuits, but they do like to avoid the ice because it can be dangerous and prefer to kayak in salt water, during the cold months.

The men thrilled the crowd as they steered their kayaks over the falls and into the freezing water. Other kayaks were in the water but did not try to paddle down the falls.

“We’re here to expose people to the extreme sport, but to also let them know you can have just as much fun running a waterfall as you can just paddling on calm waters,” kayaker Jeremy Cass said.

Before starting a snowball fight on the river banks, Ethan Amico, 9, and his sister Camryn Amico, 6, along with their mother and a few of their friends, watched the kayakers launch into the river.

“I always want to play and be outside. I don’t get cold,” said Ethan Amico, before running off to the nearby snow sculptures.

A frog, turtle and seascape were taking form in the snow-sculpting contest on Saturday afternoon, but the clear favorite among the children was the interactive slide snowcastle built by Karen and Steve Seymour of Windham.

“It’s really all about getting the kids out there and keeping them active. They need to be out and playing more and in less,” Karen Seymour said. “You can’t have too many events like this. I really applaud Westbrook for doing this. It’s not the time to hibernate. It’s really time to go outside.”

A team of sled dogs races through the starting chute at the start of a race at Sunset Ridge Golf Course, where the New England Sled Dog Club held two days of racing.
A team of sled dogs races through the starting chute at the start of a race at Sunset Ridge Golf Course, where the New England Sled Dog Club held two days of racing.
A group of brave kayakers and canoers heads upstream on the Presumpscot River, heading toward Sacarrappa Falls.
After using a sledge hammer to bust a path through the ice, Rafael Adams of South Portland paddled out onto the Presumpscot River.
Local businessman Rob Mitchell, an advocate for expanding recreational access on the Presumpscot River, backs up his words with a wetsuit, ignoring the icy, frigid water to lead a group of kayakers over Sacarrappa Falls. (Photo by Miles Obrey)
The city of Westbrook hosts its first, hopefully annual, Winter West festival at sites in downtown, along the river, and Sunset Ridge golf course.
Local businessman Rob Mitchell, an advocate for expanding recreational access on the Presumpscot River, backs up his words with a wetsuit, ignoring the icy, frigid water to lead a group of kayakers over Sacarrappa Falls. 
Jen Vanderburg of Windham and Dylan Gillis of Westbrook present Shelby Bryant of South Portland with her gifts for finishing the 5K fun run that benefited the Westbrook Professional Firefighters Association.
Doug Roncarati and Sandy Moore of Westbrook performs some detail work on a snow sculpture of a large frog in Sacarrappa Park.
Doug Roncarati of Westbrook performs some detail work on a snow sculpture of a large frog in Sacarrappa Park.
This only looks like a scene from a National Geographic documentary on the Inuit Native Americans. In reality, it’s a group of local kayakers and canoers showing that the Presumpscot River has more to offer in downtown Westbrook.
A team of sled dogs reaches the finish line at Sunset Ridge Golf Course, where the New England Sled Dog Club held two days of racing.


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