Camden is active year-round

By Karen Brace | Feb 25, 2016

I recently learned the longest word yet since beginning as your Community Development Director: “quasquibicentennial." This is something that Camden celebrated Feb. 17. It means we’ve reached our 225th birthday. If you stopped in the Camden Town Office last Wednesday, you may have sampled a cupcake and written wishes for our community on the “birthday wall” that our town manager set up. You may have shared some constructive ideas for our future too.

Camden’s quasquibicentennial came during one of our busiest months. Looking back 225 years to our founding day, I imagine that our town fathers and mothers could not have foreseen how active their new town would be in the winter. Growing up here, this wasn’t nearly the case to the extent it is now.

The annual community events during February are planned and orchestrated by a large corps of volunteers. On Friday, the 5th, Toboggan Committee members adjusted rapidly to the weather-related situation with which they were presented, where the chute couldn’t be used due to the poor ice quality on the run-out. Their quick thinking and creativity, along with the diligent work of the Snow Bowl staff, made it possible to hold the races on part of a ski slope by building a chute of snow. All this was completed within about 20 hours following the decision. The Nationals were very successful: from all reports, tobogganers and spectators had a terrific time.

On Toboggan weekend Camden also celebrated Maine’s Mardi Gras, featuring a very unique Snow Plow Parade through the downtown, followed by fireworks. The Camden Opera House kept families entertained with the Winterfest puppet show that first week of February, followed the next evening by zydeco artist CJ Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band arriving in Camden straight from the deep South. I must say that in all my decades living here, I’ve never seen an Opera House crowd on their feet dancing throughout an entire concert like they were on Feb. 4! The event brought residents out of their homes to join in the celebration. A few days earlier we were all treated to freestyle skiing at the Winterfest CamJam held at Harbor Park, and across the street the Ice Fest in the Amphitheatre brought us community ice carving, music, and our first annual polar plunge.

This winter at the Snow Bowl, the snowmaking system has made it possible to enjoy excellent ski conditions. More events have been held there. During February the ski area hosted major state races in February, drawing crowds to Camden to participate and spectate. And to top it off, this past weekend we welcomed attendees for the highly acclaimed Camden Conference, now in its 29th year. Our founding fathers and mothers might not have guessed that Camden could ever be so busy during the heart of winter and would never have imagined their town hosting such unique and imaginative activities.

These features of February have an important element in common: not one of them would exist without the efforts of community volunteers. Each event was dreamed up by individuals residing in town who knew they had it within their capabilities to make winter in Camden active, interesting and fun. Not only did these local folks come up with ideas to enhance our quality of life, but they motivated friends and neighbors to help bring them to fruition. In the wise words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” Our local volunteers certainly change Camden’s world when February rolls around.

The Camden Snow Bowl and the toboggan chute were originally built by hard-working outdoorspeople. In the same spirit it was recently redeveloped by a group of extremely dedicated volunteers who have been working for many years to raise money for the improvements at the four-season recreation area, and still are. I know that the first Toboggan Nationals were held Feb. 24, 1991 because that was the day my daughter was born. (I couldn’t be there). Some of those same winter enthusiasts who helped create the event 26 years ago are still involved now. Camden Winterfest is also run by a group of about a dozen volunteers, increased from just three when the event began in 2014. And, for nearly three decades, the Camden Conference has been spearheaded by residents with energy and skill in the area of foreign policy. Each of these local events requires hundreds of volunteer hours. We say that our small town stays active year-round, and likewise Camden citizens never shut down either!

If you’re on our list of community volunteers, you may have stepped forward to take a shift selling tickets at the downtown bus shed where people bound for the Toboggan Nationals board the buses. You may have given your time as a community ambassador aboard the buses, answering questions and making our visitors feel welcome. If you’re a West Bay Rotarian, you might have been volunteering by directing cars at the Snow Bowl on the day of the races. If you are one who helps the Snow Bowl with Toboggan Nationals, you might have been out there shoveling late on February 5th or during the wee hours of the next morning to create the snow chute. Or, this past weekend you might have been working with the organizers of the Camden Conference contributing to making the event as successful as it was. It takes a village to get things done.

All year-round, there are committed people who volunteer on a continual basis. For instance, dozens of Camden residents take care of the business of our town by serving on boards and committees. I counted the people on the lists recently and came up with more than 145 names. While some committees are more “in the limelight” than others, all are populated by citizens who’ve stepped forward to offer their time and expertise. If we add in Camden’s six festival committees, each with between six to 12 people, we’d likely surpass 200 volunteers involved with the planning and oversight functions of our town. When we count the service-oriented boards of nonprofits and local institutions, we might double that figure.

It requires consistency and vigilance to protect our spirit of volunteerism. It’s critical that the flow rotate with new people coming in all the time to lend their energy. There are Camden citizens who have served on four to five different committees, some for years. It seems the busiest people step forward, and those currently on the committees always welcome new faces who bring fresh ideas.

Hats off to the committees who ran the Toboggan Championships, Winterfest and the Camden Conference for making February one of Camden’s most event-filled months. In another two-and-a-half decades when we celebrate our “sestercentennial”, it could be that our quality of life — thanks to volunteers and others — could be at an even higher level. Meanwhile, Happy quasquibicentennial to Camden — 225 years in the making, and thank you to all of you who make it what it is.

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