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Daffest is done

Two intense-looking kids get ready to race soap-box cars in the 2016 Daffest Derby on the LaPan Highway hill. (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

SARANAC LAKE — Daffest has bloomed its last.

For seven years, from 2011 to 2017, this spring daffodil festival was this village’s big shoulder-season event. Members of the Bevilacqua family led the charge, especially Cherrie Sayles, a real estate broker who was Daffest’s founder and lead organizer, and her brother Bob Bevilacqua, a mechanic shop owner who ran its soap box derby. Both siblings confirmed Thursday that the annual event is over.

Daffest featured a wide array of events, from pastry-making and pie-eating contests to a pub crawl, a 5-kilometer run, a garden tour — whatever enthusiastic local people would bring to the table — but the Daffest Derby drew the biggest crowds. Police closed off LaPan Highway downtown and people cheered as kids piloted fancy homemade race cars down the hill from Petrova school to Main Street.

Bob Bevilacqua said it was clear at last year’s derby that public interest in it had waned.

“The day before the race we had, I think, 12 kids signed up,” he said. “And then a bunch signed up the day of, but, you know, it was pretty nerve-wracking.”

They ended up with about 70 racers, but organizers saw the writing on the wall.

“Maybe everybody’s over it,” Sayles told an Enterprise reporter that weekend. “If it’s run its course, it’s run its course.”

Bob said it was a lot of work to organize the derby but also a lot of fun, and he feels sad about it ending.

“It was my favorite day of the year,” he said.

Cities such as Ottawa and Albany have tulip festivals, and Sayles has said she thought Saranac Lake needed its own flower festival to brighten the slow spring shoulder season. She said she chose daffodils because they tend to bloom in April. Her goal of planting a million daffodil bulbs around the village was never reached, but volunteers planted tens of thousands in public parks and private yards. Some may keep popping up for years to come, but Sayles said the Adirondack climate challenged the flowers.

“We didn’t have much luck with the daffodils because of the frost, and we were planting a species that isn’t really native to the area and hoping for them to come up at the worst possible moment,” she said Thursday. “The last couple of years, we really didn’t do any plantings at all. So that kind of went by the wayside, and the [main] concentration of Daffest was on the race itself, the derby.”

Scheduling Daffest was as tricky as scheduling spring. It was supposed to happen when all the daffodils were blooming, and organizers also hoped for pleasant weather since their biggest events were outdoors. At one point the festival grew to two weekends, partly to have a better chance of catching the blooms, but then it receded back to one.

Sayles noted that even at a traditionally slow time of year, families are busy with other things.

“I just believe in Saranac Lake. Our kids are the luckiest kids on earth because there’s so much competition on the weekends for events, and they’re all in sports,” she said. “The kids that started with us when they were 5 and 6, now they’re 12, 13, 14 and they’re into hockey and so many other things that the participation was down a lot.”

She thanked local groups that helped, such as Scott’s Florist, the Kiwanis club, the fire department and the Women’s Civic Chamber.

“We asked a bunch of different groups if they wanted to take it over, but it’s just so much manpower and logistically so much work that, [with] the numbers that were showing up, it really didn’t work. But it ran its course, it was awesome, and everybody loved it, and we’re just opening up space for something new — which is awesome.”

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