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COVID or not: Winter Carnival is ON!

‘We’ll make adjustments,’ committee chair says

Fireworks over the Ice Palace cap off the 2020 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — “We are having a carnival,” said Jeff Branch, Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Committee chairman, on Monday.

“We’ll make adjustments,” Branch continued, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing health crisis recently caused the cancellation of First Night Saranac Lake activities, normally held on New Year’s Eve, for the first time in 15 years.

For more than a century, the Winter Carnival has been a cherished North Country tradition, over the years growing into a 10-day festival featuring parades, fireworks, sporting events, performances, an Ice Palace and a coronation.

“There’s been a huge amount of interest and a ton of suggestions,” said Branch. “Everything from a drive-by parade to a virtual coronation.”

The Winter Carnival Committee has yet to hold its first meeting, currently scheduled for the third Tuesday of September. At that meeting, the committee will choose a theme for the carnival and consider how to adapt the festivities to the pandemic.

The Adirondack Lawn Chair Ladies perform during the 2020 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival. Look for masks and social distancing at the 2021 Winter Carnival. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“It’s too soon to tell,” said Branch about exactly what those adjustments would be, especially given how much is likely to change between now and Feb. 5, when the next carnival is scheduled to begin. “Luckily we’ve been doing it so long it only takes about two months of actual planning.”

Last year, when a big storm dumped snow during the carnival, Branch declared: “Every year it’s something different. It might be warm or cold, rainy or snowy, but the parade always happens.”

The first carnival began as a one-night fancy dress ball — a skating costume party — in 1897 and expanded over the years, though it was held every other year for a time until 1917, taking a break until 1920. In 1898, the first Ice Palace was built and first parade was held. During the 1920s, 1930s and early 1940s, there were years when it wasn’t held at all. The carnival restarted in the winter of 1947-48 with a parade but no Ice Palace, and has been held annually since (the Ice Palace tradition resumed in 1954). Now, 73 years later, the show will go on — blizzard or global pandemic notwithstanding.

“We will have it, and I’m sure it’ll be a fabulous carnival,” said Branch. “Just like usual.”

(Andy Flynn contributed to this story.)

A crowd watches the 2020 Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Gala Parade on Broadway. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

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