By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — Vergennes Day, which lures thousands of visitors to the Little City every August, will celebrate its 25th anniversary next week with an expanded menu of activities, especially at Vergennes Union High School.
There, a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter is set to land at 10 a.m., after which that aircraft and National Guard equipment will be on display at VUHS most of Saturday, Aug. 26 — Vergennes Day. Guard personnel will also set up an inflatable obstacle course behind the high school.
Organizer Marguerite Senecal said the obstacle course is weather-dependent, as are two hot-air balloon launches (one at 6 a.m. and another at 6 p.m.) scheduled for VUHS. There also remains a chance the helicopter won’t show up if there is a military emergency.
“Hopefully that will be here and they don’t need it more than we do,” said Senecal, an Addison County Chamber of Commerce employee who is coordinating Vergennes Day for the city and the chamber for the fourth year.
Most of the events at several venues, of course, will be held regardless of the weather, including mainstays like the Little City 5K Road Race, the Lions Club barbecue, the Rotary Rubber Ducky Race, a half-dozen musical acts, rides and games in Falls Park on Otter Creek, free horse-drawn wagon rides, and the farmers’ market and 75 vending booths on the city green.
Senecal said the annual celebration of Vergennes has grown in offerings and attendance in recent years, a trend she expects to continue.
“Every year it gets bigger than the year before,” she said.
Ridership figures from the Addison County Transit Resource buses that bring people to the city from Middlebury and then spend the day shuttling between venues support that opinion.
ACTR director Jim Moulton said in 2003, the first year an ACTR bus helped out at Vergennes Day, 217 patrons rode it. That figure grew to 360 in 2004 and to 372 in 2005. Moulton said last year’s rider count is misleading because the ACTR bus at times had to turn way riders.
“We have a note from our file from a year ago: ‘Some people couldn’t get on because the bus was too full,’” Moulton said. “This year we’ll send a bigger bus.”
That bus will run between all the venues, with stops at free parking at VUHS and at Goodrich Corp. on Panton Road, and will also depart Middlebury for Vergennes from Merchants Row at 9:30 a.m.
The event also may be revenue-neutral for the city of Vergennes for the first time this year. Senecal said Vergennes Day has more sponsors than ever, with local businesses donating about $3,700 of cash, plus prizes and other in-kind donations.
That money will go toward offsetting the city’s costs, including buying its employees chicken from the Lions’ Club, said City Clerk Joan Devine. Last year the city budgeted $2,500 for the celebration, but with about $1,600 of donations had to spend only about $600. She is optimistic Vergennes will break even this August.
“It doesn’t cost us lots of money to put this on,” Devine said.
The central city green has always been the heart of Vergennes Day. The farmers’ market starts at 9 a.m. there, and many downtown merchants are planning all-day sales.
At 10 a.m. the Vergennes City Band will begin a 90-minute set on the city bandstand, vendors come on line, and the horse-drawn wagon starts rolling. Musical variety act Take Two, including city native Jim O’Brien, takes over on the bandstand at noon, followed by local folk singer and songwriter Josh Brooks at 1 p.m. and the LC Jazz Band from 2 to 4 p.m. The Lions will also start grilling chicken earlier than in the past, at 1 p.m.
VUHS will see the day’s first action, however, at least if the weather cooperates, when a to-be-determined number of hot air balloons take off at 6 a.m. In addition to the military elements at VUHS, an antique vehicle and engine show will be offered. Those events will run from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
The Vergennes Fire Department will be the second venue to come on line. Firefighters will start offering their annual pancake breakfast at 7 a.m. and serve until 10:30 a.m. From 11:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. they will hosts children’s activities at the Green Street station, including a live smoke demonstration and mini-muster games. Firefighters will also give away free smoke detectors.
The Vergennes Opera House gets into the act next. The 5K road race will begin there at 9 a.m. Those interested in running may register at 802-877-1159, at www.runvermont.org, or at the nearby Stevens House from 8 to 8:45 a.m. that morning. The city hall theater will also host at 1:30 p.m. the 40-member Addison County Gospel Choir, which draws its members from churches all over the county.
Games, rides, a petting zoo and pony rides for children will run from 10 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. at Falls Park, which Senecal dubbed KidZone this year. The Boys’ & Girls’ Club of Greater Vergennes will also offer free face-painting and games, and the Rotary plans a food booth. Rides and some games will charge a fee, but the Vergennes Area Chamber of Commerce will be giving away $250 worth of KidZone Bucks at its booth on the city green.
Falls Park, which of course will also be the site of the day-ending Rubber Ducky Race, will host one new element: Local resident Jeremy Brooks will offer nature tours along Otter Creek in kayaks.
Events also get under way at the Bixby Library at 10 a.m. The library itself will hold a used book sale from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and offer “yummy surprises” for kids at 1:30 p.m. Vergennes Area Rescue Squad will also make the library its headquarters on Aug. 26; VARS will give away food, water bottles and goodie bags; offer free bicycle helmets; and inspect their current bike helmets.
“They’re actually going to size and fit bike helmets for kids for free, and they’ll check ones you bring in,” Senecal said. “It’s a nice safety service.”
Finally, the Stevens House porch will return to service at 10:30 a.m. Members of the Otter Creek Basin Student History Club will offer walking tours of Main Street while costumed as Commodore Thomas MacDonough and a companion.
Senecal said the task of organizing all the Vergennes Day events has grown, but that it’s worth it.
“It’s a lot of work,” she said, “but people love it.”