For a nominal admission fee, close to 1,000 visitors were treated to a panoply of winter’s wonders. There were chestnuts and marshmallows roasting on an open fire, children’s games with prizes and children’s crafts provided by Lowe’s of Lloyd Community Outreach members Simon Michall, Fawn Burchell, Anthony Cuozzo and Tom Ostner. Dave Dubois of Dubois Farms on Perkinsville Road offered tractor rides on the Rail Trail. Those waiting in line for rides watched as New York City sculptor/woodworker Palo Samko and Stone Ridge artist Quetzal Saunders turned blocks of ice into animal and abstract sculptures using chainsaws and chisels.
The centerpiece of the midday event was the tenth annual chili cook-Off. With 22 participating restaurants, it was WinterFest’s largest competition. Enrollment nearly doubled as the Rail Trail Association opened up eligibility to Poughkeepsie restaurants this year, in honor of the Highland-Poughkeepsie link via the newly finished Hudson Valley Rail Trail East and Walkway Over the Hudson. Sombrero-sporting volunteers served up more than 2,000 samples to attendees, who paid per taste and voted for “Best at the Fest.” This year’s chili con carne winner was #19, Mahoney’s Irish Pub & Steak House of Poughkeepsie. The best vegetarian chili was a tie between #10 Soul Dog Cafe of Poughkeepsie and #22 Wagon Wheels Deli of Highland. Participating restaurants included Elia’s Catering and Sausage House, Global Palate, Hard Roll Deli, Coppola’s La Fantasia Restaurant, Sal’s Place, The Would, Main Street Bistro, Rocking Horse Ranch, River Station, New Friends Cafe and Bakery, Paul’s Kitchen, Casa Mia, Mariners on the Hudson, Vigneto’s Cafe, P & G’s, Amici’s, Mohonk Mountain House and the Walkway Café.
WinterFest-goers from across the Hudson Valley and beyond bundled up and set out for a day of family fun. Rose McNally of Connecticut sampled all 22 chili varieties with sister-in-law Josephine Bullaro of Queens. The Bullaro Family, which used to vacation in the Hudson Valley in summers, tries to meet up each year at WinterFest.
“It’s a great winter event that everyone can really enjoy. It’s a getaway for us as a family, something fun to do together,” said McNally.
Though all five siblings were unable to make it this time, there will always be next year -- and perhaps it was for the best.
“There wouldn’t be any chili left if we were all here,” she joked.
Alan Van De Bogart of Highland said WinterFest is an event that the community looks forward to.
“It’s a gathering place where everybody gets a chance to say hi. I especially like to watch the people who haven’t seen each other for awhile meeting up. It’s a special event for the town, and the Rail Trail Association does a great job of organizing and running it,” said Van De Bogart.
Volunteers arrived at 9 a.m. to set up for the day’s festivities. Ticket sales, clean-up and support services were provided by a large number of Rail Trail Association members and friends of the Rail Trail. Participating volunteer organizations included Boy Scout Troop 70, Girl Scout Troops 36 and 342, Highland High School Interact Club and the Highland Rotary. Children’s prizes were provided by Enchanted Toy Store of New Paltz, Milton True Value, Quality Cleaners, Tractor Supply Company, Sue and Russ Gilmore and Susan and Alan Van De Bogart.
WinterFest is a fundraiser for the Hudson Valley Rail Trail Association. All proceeds go towards trail maintenance and expansion.
For more information on the Hudson Valley Rail Trail Association, visit: www.hudsonvalleyrailtrail.net.