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Two Festivals In Region Fade

Saranac Lake welcome sign
Pat Bradley/WAMC

Two festivals in our region have announced they are ending: Saranac Lake’s spring Daffest and Burlington’s First Night.  Both indicate weather is a key factor.
For 35 years, Burlington First Night has welcomed the New Year with thousands of revelers, entertainers and fireworks.  It had been one of the longest-running First Night celebrations in the country. But spokesperson Becky Cassidy says a combination of factors, mainly frigid weather, led organizers to bid farewell to the annual fest.  “This year our button sales prior to the extreme weather were 67 percent ahead of where they had been the previous year, which was just great.  But then we got into this incredibly, incredibly cold weather in early to mid-December and that really just sort of, no pun intended, froze button sales. So a great run.  Most First Nights around the country and the world don’t last any longer than 10 years. So our 35 year run as a private non-profit is just terrific.”

Seven years ago a spring festival germinated in Saranac Lake.  Over time organizers hoped to plant more than a million daffodils in the village. Thousands of the flowers already bloom each spring and volunteers planted more bulbs each year in anticipation of late April’s Daffest.  The flowers were a backdrop for fun runs, history walks, pub crawls and other events. Co-founder Bob Bevilacqua organized the event’s soap box derby.  “It was a great event.  But a couple years ago we had almost a hundred kids. And then two years ago we had about seventy kids. And last year the day before the event we had I think twelve or fourteen kids registered. So it makes it a little nerve wracking. It’s quite an undertaking.  Then the day of the event we had another 40, 45,47 kids signed up so we had about 50 kids last year. I feel bad for the 50 kids that still want to do it but it’s an awful lot of work to undertake to do that kind of event with that low participation. This time of year was the time of year that the village needed something going on.”

Lake Placid based Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism spokesperson Carrie Gentile notes that trying to hold an event during the Adirondack shoulder season can be problematic. “One of the biggest challenges is honestly weather and Daffest coming into the spring season I think there were challenges with sometimes it just being cold you know and I think sometimes the daffodils hadn’t even bloomed yet. But like in any place they’re labor intensive, events can be expensive. They’re normally takes a lot of volunteers. You need marketing. You need dollars behind it. And in the Adirondacks people tend to go away in the shoulder seasons. You might lose some of your volunteer base and some of the residents that would go to these events wouldn’t be there. So it can be an uphill battle in the shoulder season. But saying that you have a lot of annual events that work and have been going on for years and years.”

While Saranac Lake’s Daffest has wilted, Burlington’s First Night, according to Cassidy, is taking on a new form.  “What assets are left will be transferred to Burlington City Arts and the event will be guided by them. And so there will be an event. It may not be in the exact same form as has occurred in the past.  They are very experienced producing great arts events and some of their staff were involved this last year in doing the programming for First Night. So I think it’s nothing but good for the event and for the future of First Night in Burlington.”

Tourism officials plan to test out a new event in Indian Lake in June: a combined run, swim, bike and kayaking competition.