Floating cinder blocks reveal the end of the Joe's Pond ice-out contest in 2007, see in an image from the Joe's Pond Association.
WEST DANVILLE — This just in: The first few days of the annual ice-out contest on Joe’s Pond won’t be monitored — no clock, no pallet, no flag, no need — because, frankly, this one could take awhile.
Just ask Jane Brown, co-chairwoman of the fundraiser that began as a hyper-local guessing game among camp owners with cabin fever and, since they started selling tickets and taking names in 1988, has steadily grown into a contest with international appeal. It raises money for Fourth of July celebrations.
Seasoned observers like Brown will tell you the ice on Joe’s Pond has rarely gone out before April 15 — it’s happened only twice — and never made it to May 15.
That doesn’t mean that plenty of people who’ve paid $1 for the privilege haven’t guessed that it would over the years. It just means they’ve generally been considered clueless when it comes to the weather patterns in West Danville.
This year, not so much, according to Brown, who said Monday there won’t be a lot of scoffing at mid-May predictions, because the odds of them being correct are infinitely better than the odds of the ice going out between now and April 15.
An unusually frigid winter has left some 2 feet of snow blanketing roughly 36 inches of ice on a pond that was still frozen solid as today’s 11:59 p.m. deadline for submitting entries approached.
“Locals are saying we’ll be lucky if the ice is gone by June or so (and) some people are saying we’ll be watching the fireworks on July Fourth from the ice,” Brown said.
“Everybody is pretty pessimistic about it at this point.”
Like the weather, that can change. And Brown said it can’t change fast enough for those who predicted — in most cases months ago — that the ice-out would come on, say, April 5 as it did in 2010, or April 8 as it did in 2012.
“It’s not going that early this year,” said Brown, who explained organizers have decided to wait until days after the contest is technically underway to set up the contraption that will select this year’s winner.
“This year it’s just been such a wicked winter that no one wants to go out and set it up,” she said, noting that while this weekend offered a bit of a reprieve in terms of temperature, a cold rain was reason enough to procrastinate.
“Everybody is saying: ‘We’ve got plenty of time, no rush to get it out,’” she said of a wooden pallet, cinder block and flag that will eventually be placed on the ice and connected by a rope to the plug of a clock that has yet to be mounted on Bill and Diane Rossi’s back deck.
The Rossi place became ice-out central last year, when the duo inherited a role played for years by Homer Fitts. They replaced the tired old clock that had been used since the inception of the ice-out contest with one that is much larger and added a webcam so folks from all over the world can monitor the melting.
This year they’ve added a similarly sized thermometer to the mix and a second webcam, which will be trained on the pallet, block and flag that will eventually slip through the parting ice, pulling the plug on the clock and ending the contest.
It already has entries from Connecticut to Kansas to California, more than a couple from Hawaii, and several from foreign countries. That’s according to Henretta Splain, who has already entered about 5,000 of them into a database and expects she’ll have to enter at least 5,000 more when the last entries arrive.
“So far the one that was sent from the furthest away came from New Zealand,” said Splain, who entered one the other day predicting June 3 as the winning date, a guess that she says doesn’t sound as crazy this year as it did last year. Splain also just entered another predicting an ice-out time on May 28.
Could either be right?
“Oh, God, I hope not!” said Splain, who conceded she wouldn’t be surprised if the ice-out stretches into May — something it has done only six times in the last 26 years, three of them just barely.
The ice-out ended May 1 in 1996, 1997 and 2007; it lasted until May 4 in 1994 and 2001; and it has never ended later than May 6, a record set in 1992.
Brown said there is a decent chance that record could fall this year, and Splain said that possibility is reflected in predictions that are trending a little later than usual this year.
“We’ve got a lot of late April, early May (entries),” she said.
That sounds about right to Brown, who said that until the last few days signs of spring have been few and far between.
“We figure we’ve been growing ice right up until this past weekend,” she said. “It’s a lot different than 2012 when we thought it was going to go out before April 1.”
Those interested in entering the contest still have time, and the price remains just $1 a guess. A lengthy list of central Vermont businesses sell tickets, and an online purchase option can be found at joespondvermont.com. The winner receives half the proceeds from ticket sales, less expenses, with the balance going to finance the Joe’s Pond Association’s Independence Day fireworks display.
Brown said she has received calls from people wanting to know the depth of the pond, the average temperature in West Danville in January, and other meteorological minutiae before picking their dates and times.
“I tell them: ‘It’s Mother Nature’s decision, not ours. I don’t think it’s a very scientific process,’” she said. “All I know is once it starts to go … it goes real quickly once the real warm weather sets in.”
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