NEWPORT — Spring finally made its appearance in Newport this past Saturday, at 4:09 a.m. to be exact.
The Lake Memphremagog Ice Out Contest, now in its 7th year, brought in a record 1,876 guesses and the largest ever cash prize.
“Last week’s warm spell was possibly one of the most climactic endings the Ice Out contest has had in a while,” said Jessica Booth, Director of Parks & Recreation. “Everywhere I went I would hear people talking about the weather and how ‘it’s gotta go any day now.’”
Booth says the number of guesses for the contest almost doubled during the last week alone with the pot shooting up over $1,000 just from predictions submitted on Thursday and Friday.
Guesses came in from across the country this year with entries from all New England states and some from Georgia and Texas.
A few optimistic Vermonters had hoped the ice would go out as early as February 26, while the latest guess came in for June 16 at 2:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 27 was the celebratory day for 2020, when Parks & Recreation staff began getting mixed reports about the status of the mascot around sunrise.
“There was some pretty crazy wind on Friday night, so we weren’t sure if it had really sunk or if it had just blown over again,” Booth said.
The plywood facade had flipped over from high wind earlier in the month but was rescued by Fire Chief John Harlamert who traversed the ice in full wet gear.
Booth says when they got to the park on Saturday morning, the Ice Out clock was stopped but they could still see the mascot floating in the water.
They figured it would be best to paddle out and double-check to make sure it wasn’t sitting on submerged ice.
After the team confirmed that the weights had indeed sunk, the official Ice Out time of 4:09 a.m. was penned into the history books.
After the remaining tickets were collected and submissions reviewed, the announcement Monday morning was most exciting to Newport Center resident Jason Patenaude who had submitted predictions for the third year in a row.
His winning guess of 4:02 a.m. was just seven minutes ahead of the actual time, the closest in the 7-year history of the game.
“I like to keep an eye on it and I knew with the wind in the forecast it was going to melt the ice really quickly,” Patenaude said.
Friday night he stopped at the Pick and Shovel and purchased over 50 tickets with guesses through the night at 22-minute intervals.
Patenaude took home $2,000.50, as his half of the 50/50 cash prize.
The Lake Memphremagog Ice Out Contest is an annual fundraiser hosted by the Newport Recreation Committee.
This year the event brought in $4,001 total, with half the donations benefiting improvements at Gardner Memorial Park.
Jason Patenaude (center) holds check for winning Memphremagog Ice Out contest. Newport Dispatch photo