Two people take to the ice Wednesday afternoon at Mill Creek Park in South Portland. The pond will be a little more occupied next weekend with ice games and group skating as part of WinterFest South Portland 2022 Jan. 29. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

WinterFest will look a bit different this year with less dependence on snow and ice, and more dependence on the community.

The South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Rotary Club, in partnership with the city of South Portland, will hold its annual WinterFest South Portland at Mill Creek Park on Jan. 29.

This year, 10-15 groups and organizations — including the Girl Scouts, South Portland Land Trust, the SoPo Dog Owners group and local musicians — will provide the free activities and entertainment.

“It’s not the Rotary and South Portland providing stuff to do,” said Patty Sprague, chairperson of the Rotary’s WinterFest 2022 committee.

And, while there will still be winter-themed events such as ice skating and snowshoeing, most of the activities are not weather-dependent.

“We decided to sort of reimagine the event to be more of a coming together of people in the community, and celebrating snow and ice if we have it,” Sprague said.


There is also a change in location for the evening’s fireworks display.

“This year, we have worked mightily and succeeded in getting the fireworks to happen at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth,” Sprague said.

The fireworks show used to be held at Wainwright Sports Complex but it was switched this year to further integrate Cape Elizabeth into the event.

“We haven’t had much Cape Elizabeth involvement in WinterFest in the past,” Sprague said. “Obviously, several of our members are from Cape Elizabeth.”

The event has been consolidated to one day, rather than kicking it off on Friday night as usual, because of the pandemic.

“We had originally planned an evening on Friday of sampling the foods of eateries in the Mill Creek area,” said Sprague. “But we did need to consider the rise of infection rates due to omicron.”


Events are scheduled from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.

The Rotary club partners with the South Portland Parks & Recreation Department for the festival.

“We step in and we help with the implementation the day of, some of the equipment and supplies they may need,” said South Portland Parks & Rec Director Karl Coughlin, who noted labor as another resource they provide. “It is a true, great partnership between the Rotary club and the city.”

WinterFest is sponsored by local businesses, with the money going toward the expenses of the event. Any excess helps fund Rotary initiatives, such as work with the food cupboard and substance recovery programs, Sprague said

Tony Wagner, a 39-year member of the Rotary club, was involved in the planning and execution of the first WinterFest event in 2012, which took place solely at Mill Creek Park.

“We did all of this crazy stuff, we actually bought a snow-making machine,” he said. “We were burnt out … In 2013 we said we’re not doing that again.”


While they didn’t hold WinterFest in 2013, the city encouraged them to give it another go in 2014, offering to supply necessary labor and equipment. That festival was held at both Mill Creek and Wainwright.

The number of sponsors grew year after year, Wagner said, until the pandemic.

“The revenue went down, and we actually decided we had to pull the plug because of COVID,” he said.

WinterFest 2021 was canceled, but many of the businesses that had come on board as sponsors did not wish to be refunded.

“That was about 52 businesses that said, ‘Keep the money,'” he said.

In a typical year, the event draws 80 to 90 sponsors, according to Wagner.

This year, the event will go on while following CDC guidelines.

“We will have hand sanitizer, we’ll have boxes of surgical masks for adults and children,” said Sprague. “We are going to take care of people to the extent we are able, and encourage people to take care of themselves and each other.”

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