First he would sled down the hill, then he would eat s’mores, and then he would participate in the scavenger hunt. Ryan Lane really wasn’t sure about the last item on the itinerary, but at least there was face painting.
“I’m glad that my school made a bad call yesterday,” he said from atop a hill at Riverview Orchards. “It’s like I got two snow days.”
Eight-year-old Ryan is referring, of course, to the huge snowstorm that buried upstate New York and the rest of the Northeast on Friday night. It produced just enough hype before it arrived to prompt schools across the region to close Friday, even though the real punch didn’t arrive until later in the day. And that snow made for an ideal Winterfest in Clifton Park Saturday.
Lane, friend Zachary Zajicek, and his little sister, Megan, spent Saturday afternoon playing in the deep snow. They slid down the orchard hill on tubes, squealing when their inflatables gained speed or spun on the way down.
Riverview Orchards hosts the bulk of outdoor activities at each year’s event. But the annual Winterfest doesn’t always look like winter. This year, the overnight snowfall had its benefits and downfalls.
“We’re not doing the horses,” said Isabel Prescott, with a defeated sigh. “This is the first time ever. And we have this wonderful snow, too.”
Prescott owns Riverview Orchards and has given horse-drawn sleigh rides at her farm for Winterfest for at least the last decade. And when there’s no snow, she makes sure there are horse-drawn wagon rides for the kids.
But the Rensselaer County Draft Horse Association decided early Saturday not to send its horses to Clifton Park, worried the road conditions would be too dangerous for hauling the big horses.
“They were very concerned about their horses traveling in the bad weather, and so they didn’t come,” said Prescott. “They just couldn’t take the chance of bringing them.”
So on Saturday around noon, when families began trickling into her shop asking about the horses, Prescott grew worried that for the first time a snowy winter day had ruined Winterfest.
“I don’t know what to expect,” she said, “hopefully more kids. That’s what it’s all about.”
There was still plenty to do outdoors Saturday. There was snowshoeing at Veterans Memorial Park off Route 146A, where tour guides showed off a wooden duck house, beaver pond and animal tracks. At the orchard, there were s’mores around a bonfire, snowman building and a scavenger hunt with hidden trinkets and prizes.
There were Valentine’s crafts and face painting, popcorn and cider donuts. There was a soup contest at the Hilton Garden Inn ballroom inside the Clifton Park Center and a display of inventions by Shenendehowa elementary- and middle-school students at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library.
Riverview Orchards showed early signs of a good Winterfest turnout, despite the lack of horses. The sprawling farm with squat apple trees, snow-covered pine trees and round bales for kids to climb on usually draws between 500 and 800 people to the event each year.
“I really like networking with the town because it gives me the opportunity to have kids come over and watch them go outside and down the hill and enjoy a bonfire and have a ride on a sleigh,” said Prescott.
As she got up for a cup of cider, her loyal Rottweiler, Otto, following behind, a family of three crossed the road and trekked toward the hill, one boy nearly losing his balance on the clumpy path to the top.
“Snow! Snow! Snow! Snow!” a little girl squealed, stomping a foot emphatically with each declaration.