Norway celebrates its snowshoe history with a festival this weekend

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NORWAY — A candle-lit snow-filled trek, a three-legged race, musical chairs and a wife carrying contest, all of this and more can be done for free — and on snowshoes — as part of the fifth annual Norway Snowshoe Festival this weekend.

The three-day event is organized by the Norway-based Western Foothills Land Trust with help from Norway Downtown and Healthy Oxford Hills as part of the state-wide Great Maine Outdoor Weekend. Lee Dassler, executive director of the Western Foothills Land Trust, says it’s obvious why Norway needs to have such a celebration in the community, as the town was once known as the Snowshoe Capital of America and had four major snowshoe makers in it from 1850 to 1980 — Mellie Dunham, H.H. Hosmer, W.F. Tubbs and the Aldriches with Snocraft.

Photo courtesy of David Sanderson  Mellie Dunham, a Norway resident who is considered the godfather of snowshoe making in town, is seen working his craft.
Photo courtesy of David Sanderson
Mellie Dunham, a Norway resident who is considered the godfather of snowshoe making in town, is seen working his craft.

The festival kicks off at 10 a.m. Friday with a snowshoe outing across the frozen Witt Swamp. Those wishing to attend the two-hour trek will meet at Shepard’s Farm Preserve at 121 Crockett Ridge Road. Call 739-2124 for snowshoes.

“It’s a really pretty snowshoe. There’s some beautiful botanics in the bog of Witt Swamp that are worth closer consideration even if you don’t know the names,” Dassler says. “There’s something wonderful to be able to walk on a place that’s not walkable in the summer because it’s water.”

For those feeling romantic or others wishing to enjoy the great outdoors in the dark, later that night, from 6 to 7 p.m. at Roberts Farm Preserve, 64 Roberts Road, is the candle-lit snowshoe walk. Dassler says they will make luminaria from snow or ice to place the candles on the 1.2k trek that will lead from the parking lot to the viewing point.

The 5k and 10k Norway Exile Snowshoe Races are at 11 a.m. Saturday at Roberts Farm Preserve, which are two of three activities with fees. To participate, it’s $10 ahead of time or $12 the day of the race. To preregister, visit www.runreg.com.

Brenda Melhus Competitors try to race across the finish line during last year's Snowshoe Wife Carry - the only of its kind in the world - during the Norway Snowshoe Festival
Brenda Melhus
Competitors try to race across the finish line during last year’s Snowshoe Wife Carry – the only of its kind in the world – during the Norway Snowshoe Festival

Games for children and their families have been moved to Saturday afternoon from 1 to 3 p.m., which Dassler expects will be a warmer time of day. There’s the 1k relay, three-legged race, 100 yard dash, musical chairs, egg and spoon and pulk pull. There’ll be small prizes for those who participate.

“These are just fun games to everyone in the family out on snowshoes and having a blast. … The pulk are those little plastic sleds … usually the parent will be pulling one or two of their kids so it’s a speed race,” she says. “But it’s fun because the kids are falling out and the parents are getting involved.”

Culminating the games for the day is the world’s only Snowshoe Wife Carry.

“This area of Maine is very excited about carrying wives across finish lines, some sort of Finnish tradition I think so we take that to snowshoes as well,” Dassler says, adding it doesn’t have to be an actual wife who is carried. She’s had sisters carrying sisters, boys carrying girls and mothers carrying their sons. “It’s hard enough carrying your wife on dry land.”

Dassler used to call the event the Mellie Dunham Snowshoe Festival, but has since simplified its name.

“Because Mellie was the first of the snowshoe makers and he was so pivotal, we still include music,” Dassler says, as Dunham was also a famous fiddle player.

The Valentine’s Day contra dance set for 6 p.m. Saturday at the Norway Grange, 15 Whitman St., which has a suggested $5 donation. Bill Olson will call the dance as the Don Roy Trio plays the tunes.

“Mellie Dunham and (his son-in-law and fellow snowshoe maker) Nate Noble used to play in front of that,” Dassler says about a painting that hangs behind the stage in the grange. “The historic resonance is so immediate.”

Chocolate snowshoes made by Auburn’s Maine Gourmet Chocolates and snowshoe valentines with Dunham’s lyrics will be available at the festival and at Books ‘N Things on Main Street. There’s antique snowshoes hanging in the windows of Cafe Nomad and Fiber and Vine, also on Main Street, for people to enjoy.

eplace@sunmediagroup.net