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City’s day offers new elements, old favorites

VERGENNES — There are few truly new elements in for the 30th annual Vergennes Day, which this year falls on Saturday, Aug. 25.
But when an annual event works well enough to still draw thousands to Vergennes after three decades, organizers believe it’s not a bad idea to rely on its tried-and-true formula — kid-friendly attractions, a road race, the Lions’ Club chicken barbecue, music, horse-drawn wagon rides, car shows and, of course, the Rotary Club’s Rubber Duckie Race.
The Addison County Chamber of Commerce’s Marguerite Senecal, a longtime Vergennes resident who this spring moved to Cornwall, is in her ninth year of organizing the day’s festivities on the city’s behalf; she replaced a volunteer committee that had found the work increasingly challenging.
Even though some venues — such as the Otter Creek Basin — have been de-emphasized in recent years, Senecal said more and more people seem to show up.
“It’s definitely grown. It used to be just a few crafters in the park and the chicken barbecue,” she said. “The attendance, does it keep growing? I think so.”
Numbers are hard to measure because events are spread among several sites, not just the two main venues: the city green where more than six dozen vendors set up booths, musicians take to the bandstand, and chicken sizzles on the grill; and Vergennes Union High School, where tractors, trucks, and antique and specialty cars are displayed and radio-controlled aircraft will be demonstrated.
But Senecal said one way she can track attendance is through prize tickets Lang McLaughry Spera real estate agents hand out to children, and in recent years that demand has grown.
She also is seeing lots of vendors from around the state sign up for the first time.
“(Vergennes Day), and the Bristol Harvest Festival, for some reason, (people) know about it,” Senecal said. “I’m getting all sorts of people I’ve never even heard of.”
Actually, for the fourth year in a row, the event should be called Vergennes Day-and-a-quarter. Festivities will kick off at 7 p.m. with a street dance scheduled to run four hours and once again featuring The Hitmen.
Senecal said some Vergennes Day donors specifically earmarked their gifts to bring back that band, which has lured hundreds to a closed-off Park Street in past years. Other attractions will include a bounce house for kids and snacks, including popcorn.
Saturday opens with the Vergennes Fire Department’s pancake breakfast from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., at a cost of $8 for adults and $6 for kids 6 to 12.
At 9 a.m. the Little City 5K Walk and 10K Race starts in front of City Hall. Participants may pre-register at www.runvermont.org, or on that Saturday sign up between 8 and 8:45 a.m. head to the Stevens House at the corner of Main and Green streets.
At 10 a.m. Vergennes Day hits full stride:
•  On the city green, the Vergennes City Band takes to the bandstand, and the vendors will open up shop.
•  At VUHS, the Champlain Valley Flyers will lift off their remote-controlled aircraft on the baseball field until noon, and on display inside until 4 p.m. will be collectible Cobra Mustangs, antique engines, possibly Vermont Army Guard vehicles, and a variety of tractors and trucks.
•  At St. Peter’s Parish Hall, a rummage sale will operate until 2 p.m.
•  At the Bixby Library until 2 p.m., a book sale will be run, the Vergennes Area Rescue Squad will hand out goodie bags and provide snacks, and Safe Kids Addison County will inspect bike helmets and hand out a limited supply of new ones.
And there a new element will debut: Eagle Scout Duncan Mathewson’s replica Abenaki Wampum belt and related research will be displayed in the library’s Vermont Room, where it will remain until October.
As the day goes on, new choices will pop up on the Vergennes Day menu. By 11 a.m. the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s Lois McClure will be docked in the Otter Creek basin. The vessel, a full-scale replica on an 1822 sailing and canal boat typically used on Lake Champlain and Lake George, will be open to the public until 6 p.m. The LCMM will leave the Lois McClure in the basin overnight and reopen it for public viewing from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
At 11:15 a.m. the next act on the city bandstand will be the Benoits, who feature area singer/songwriter Josh Brooks. At 1:15 p.m. local favorites The Galaxies and Take Two share the bandstand, and as always the LC Jazz Band will be the last musical act of the day, beginning at 2:30 p.m.
When the dishes are cleared at the fire department, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. firefighters will offer a fire protection display and a slide presentation on local fires, show off a 1925 Boyer fire truck, and once again create their soap bubble pit in the closed-off end of Short Street.
“Kids love what they do,” Senecal said.
Another kid-friendly activity also begins at 11:30 a.m. — free horse-drawn wagon rides around Vergennes offered by Clay Country Farms.
At 1 p.m. the Lions will start dishing out chicken, and will do so until it’s gone.
At 2 p.m., another new element arrives at VUHS, but one many residents will find familiar — Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel will offer a half-hour demonstration of the abilities of the department canine, Akido.
All day long, merchants will offer sales, and Bet-Cha Transit will run shuttle buses between all the venues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The final scheduled event of the day begins at 3:30 p.m. in Falls Park, below the falls in the basin — the Rotary’s Rubber Duckie race, the proceeds of which go to the club’s Scholarship Fund. Rotary president Scott Gaines said the race is the club’s most popular and effective fundraiser of the year.
Tickets for individual Duckie race entrants are $3 each, or a pack of four can be purchased for $10.00. Tickets can be purchased online at vergennesrotary.org or at Gaines Insurance and Classic Stitching in Vergennes.
The first duck across the Otter Creek finish line will earn its owner $250, second place is worth $100 and third is worth $50.
At some point on the green, probably a little earlier about when the Lions start running low on poultry, Senecal said there will be cake, apparently per the decree of Mayor Michael Daniels.
“This is the 30th. We’re going to have cake,” Senecal said. “Birthday cake, anniversary cake, whatever Mayor Mike wants to call it.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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