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Watertown’s Snowtown USA festival might be back this winter


Maura M. Dawley remembered going to Snowtown USA winter festivals in Watertown and seeing ice sculpture and snowman-building competitions when she was growing up in Watertown back in the mid-1980s.

And she would like her 9-year-old daughter, Paige, to experience the same kind of fun.

So Ms. Dawley, 38, approached city officials about bringing back Snowtown USA, a popular midwinter festival in Watertown during the 1980s and 1990s.

She and a small group of volunteers are working with the city Parks and Recreation Department to try to bring back the festival that was named after Watertown’s notoriety for its large of amounts of snowfall.

“It’s early in the planning stages,” Ms. Dawley said.

During its heyday, the 10-day festival that let residents thumb their noses at Old Man Winter featured snowman-building and ice sculpture competitions, hockey tournaments, an open skating rink at the Park Circle and other events.

This version would be on a smaller scale, but organizers already are looking at an array of family-oriented events that would start on New Year’s Eve and continue through the first weekend in January.

It would start with some family activities and music Dec. 31. It would include a hockey tournament to raise money for the Wounded Warrior program, a chowder competition, a winter softball tournament, snowman building, outdoor skating, a Watertown Privateers hockey game and other activities.

The idea was born of a Facebook comment last summer by Ms. Dawley’s friend Kristy Perez, 33, who asked whether others remembered Snowtown USA and said how great it would be if youths growing up in Watertown now could experience the festival. Soon Mrs. Perez, a mother of four, had about 50 people commenting that it would be great to bring it back.

“It kind of went from there,” she said, adding that she hopes “it’ll bring the community together” during the winter’s peak.

A meeting was set up with City Manager Sharon A. Addison and Parks and Recreation Superintendent Erin E. Gardner, and they were both on board with it. Like other Parks Department events, Mrs. Gardner described it as a low-cost family festival “that everyone can afford.” It will salute the spirit of north country residents who cope with blustery weather and lake-effect snow, she said.

“I think it’ll be a success,” she said.

Organizers have set up committees to work on different aspects of the festival. They are looking for other organizers to get involved, business sponsors and volunteers to help work that week.

Walter Cronkite actually coined the phrase “Snowtown USA,” when reporting how the blizzard of 1977 dumped some 220 inches of snow on Watertown. A few years later, organizers used it for the name of the new festival.

Started during the early 1980s, Snowtown USA finally was done in by extreme weather — either too much snow from blizzards or mild temperatures — and was last held in 1997. Volunteer interest also dwindled during the waning years.

Ms. Dawley said she believes weather won’t be a problem this time. She noted the Farmers Almanac has predicted a lot of snow this season.

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