By Patricia Breakey

Delhi News Bureau

The Delaware County Fairgrounds in Walton will be transformed into a winter wonderland from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 23, during the inaugural Winter Festival.

The event will feature a National Ice Carving Association collegiate tournament, professional ice-skating exhibitions, snowmobile races, horse-drawn sleigh demonstrations, snowman- and igloo-making, and a children's snow play land, Mary Beth Silano, Delaware County Chamber of Commerce executive director, said Thursday.

"We are so excited about this event," Silano said. "We want people to get out and enjoy Delaware County instead of hibernating all winter."

The event grew around the Hamden Hill Ridge Riders' annual snowmobile races, Ridge Riders spokesman Earl Sines said.

Sines said the snowmobile races were almost canceled this year because the event had outgrown its former location in Hamden. Sines said when the decision was made to hold the races in a new place, they also decided to use a new format.

In the past, the group had put on timed radar races, but this year, the sleds will run in side-by-side drag races on the track.

"It's going to be a lot more exciting and fun to watch the races, and we hope it will grow until it has national fame," Sines said, adding that there will be amateur and professional riders.

Children up to age 10 are also invited to ride their mini-sleds on the track, Sines said.

Tom Recinella of the State University College of Technology at Delhi said six teams from the college with two members each will compete in the ice-carving event. Recinella is an associate professor in the business and hospitality division at the college.

According to Recinella, each team will get three 300-pound blocks of ice that they will turn into a sculpture of their choosing in four hours.

The carving will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with awards at 3:30 p.m.

Four of the ice-carving teams are from SUNY Delhi and two are from the University of Akron in Ohio. National Ice Carving Association judges will judge the carvings. The students will then move on to the National Ice Carving Championship in Ohio the following week.

Recinella said the event is located in the sheep pavilion, which will allow people to walk around and view the works in progress.

"We hope this event will catch the attention of a sponsor because we would love to have the event to grow into a national competition and feature many more teams," Recinella said.

Nina Newby, a professional ice skater who has a second home in Walton, will do skating exhibitions and will skate with children and adults on the portable rink that is being brought in for the event, Courtney Hannan Russell, county and Walton Chamber representative, said Thursday.

Newby is a United States Figure Skating Association Gold Medalist and was a Silver Medalist in the 1990 US Professional Championships. She also created and coached the popular "Men n Sync," the first men's competitive synchronized skating team in the U.S., who were featured in The New York Times and on The Today Show.

Russell said Newby will perform from noon to 2 p.m.

There will be some extra skates available, but people are invited to bring their own and join Newby on the rink, Russell said.

Patty Lollot of Walton will give horse-drawn sleigh or carriage demonstrations, depending on the weather, from noon to 2 p.m.

Silano said warming rooms will be available where people can warm up with chili, soup and hot cocoa sold by the Walton Fire Department.

Russell said Walton merchants and restaurants are offering special discounts and giveaways to encourage people to stop in the village before and after they visit the festival.

"It's going to be great for the village of Walton and for the county," Russell said.

"This is the first year of the event, so we are trying to build it slowly," Silano said. "But eventually we would like to have additional events like snow-shoe races, cross-country skiing and even bring back the sled dog races."

Admission to the fairgrounds is $3 to benefit the Hamden Hill Ridge Riders. Children younger than 12 will be admitted free.

The Winter Festival is sponsored by The Delaware County Chamber of Commerce, Delaware County Department of Economic Development, Delaware County IDA, SUNY Delhi and the Hamden Hill Ridge Riders.

To enter the race, call 746-7479 or visit www.hamdenhillridgeriders.com.

For information on the Winter Fest, call the Delaware County Chamber at 746-2281.

Patricia Breakey can be reached at 746-2894 or at stardelhi@stny.rr.com.

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