Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Dateline Woodstock:
About this time every year, Vermonters start thinking about Spring. Not that Spring will be sprung anytime soon, but we find no small comfort in just thinking about it. One of the major events of Spring, one that you may not have heard about, is the Joe’s Pond Ice-Out Contest. The contest came about as a result of cabin fever. In the mid 1980’s, Jules Chatot, a Joe’s Pond summer resident for many years, regularly visited his camp in the winter. He and his family and friends would hang out together to party, snowmobile, play cards—it was like “deer camp” in the dead of winter, or “spring break” in deep snow with howling winds and muddy roads. The weather is always a favorite topic of conversation among Vermonters, and by late February or March people in the area of Joe’s Pond invariably expand it! to “when do you think the ice will go out?”
Jules and his friends had been making wagers for years about when the ice would be gone. They’d go into West Danville every day for coffee at the Joe’s Pond Country Store or for supplies at Hasting’s store, and naturally local folks had strong opinions and took up the challenge. Jules kept track for everyone in a little notebook he kept in his pocket.
Jules was president of the Joe’s Pond Association and sometime in late 1987, he and his buddies decided to turn the rapidly expanding friendly game into a real contest. They decided “a buck a guess” was fair, but then they needed some foolproof way to determine the actual time the ice was out. They put their heads together and came up with the hi-tech, sophisticated control system that is still in use now, twenty-one years later. They placed an old electric clock (now estimated to be at least 40 years old) on Homer and Elsie Fitts’ deck, tethered it to a cinder block wired to a wooden pallet placed 50 feet or more out on the ice just off the fishing access by the Fitts’ camp, and there it was—the perfect solution to inevitable arguments about when the ice was actually out of all the nooks and crannies and coves of the pond. When the block went down, the clock stopped, and that w! as it—the “official” ice-out time. Whoever guessed closest to the date and time the clock stopped won the contest.
That first year, April of 1988, there were a few hundred people in the game. By 1990, there were 1500 tickets sold, and to keep track of all the names, times, and dates, Jules’ daughter, Judy, set up a database. In 1994, Manuel “Chico” Carcoba took over the database and logged in 2,500 tickets. The game has grown steadily over the years, and in 2007, “Chico” logged in over 9,000 tickets. People all over the United States and some from overseas play the game.
The Joe’s Pond Ice-Out Contest isn’t as much about winning (although last year the winner got $4,216!!), it is more about playing the game and shaking off some of the effects of a long, cold Vermont winter and muddy spring—and it’s about having fun. We aren’t sure why so many folks from other states like to get into the game, but it sure makes it more interesting for everyone.
After expenses, proceeds are split between the Joe's Pond Association and the contest winner. The Ice-Out Contest is the biggest fundraiser the Association has. Joe's Pond Association's share of the proceeds is used for its free public July Fourth Fireworks display.

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