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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Levitt Pavilion Grounds Green Up for EcoFest

Levitt Pavilion Grounds Green Up for EcoFest:
Third annual event continues to build in scope
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Fairfield, CT – There was a fine mist, chilly temperatures, lots of teens and lots of green… green initiatives, that is.

Despite the gray, rainy weather, the third annual EcoFest, firmly rooted on the grounds of the Levitt Pavilion, went ahead Saturday afternoon as planned. The event attracted throngs of environmentally conscious people who enjoyed live music, food, scores of exhibits and raffles. The fest was sponsored by Westport’s Green Village Initiative (GVI) and Staples High School’s Club Green.

“The goal of EcoFest is to get the word out about environmentally friendly businesses around town and raise awareness about the service work that the Club does,” said Nicole Brill, co-president of Club Green.

“The first year was successful, but only had a handful of vendors,” added Ben Meyers, Brill’s counterpart. “Last year, we climbed to 35 vendors. This year, we have 55 vendors as well as 14 performers, all local talent.”

The pair noted that this year’s theme is “Think Clean Go Green”, and is about your home and what you can do personally to make positive environmental change.

“EcoFest was originally targeted to the high school crowd, but it has really attracted a wide audience,” said Meyers. “It has become a great event.”

One popular vendor onsite was Whole Foods Market. The representative there, Lavinia Hurd, was sampling Steaz tea but also promoting a recycling initiative called Gimme 5. “Customers can bring into the store their #5 recyclables, which we then provide to Preserve, a company that repurposes them into plates and toothbrushes. It’s a way for customers to make a difference.”

Nearby, the Backyard Beekeepers Association was abuzz with information about its pursuit. “We’re a group of about 400 beekeepers, mostly in Fairfield County, guaranteeing through our hobby fruitful flowers and vegetables while generating premium honey,” said board member Gabriele Kallenborn. “It’s about local sustainability.”

At lead sponsor GVI’s table, Deirdre Price was busy educating the public about the group’s initiatives, which include putting edible gardens in schools in Bridgeport, seeking to establish an urban farm in the same area and starting GVIs in surrounding towns. “By establishing a network, we create strength to drive environmental legislation in Hartford,” she said.

Across the grounds was Mimi Auer of Brighter Concepts of CT, distributors of an innovative daylighting system called Solatube. “The equipment captures daylight on your roof, transfers it through a tube in the attic and delivers it into a dark space in your home,” she said. “The tubes are lined with a reflective material called Spectralight, which transfers light through the conduit. There are no negative by-products in the process.”

Proving that being green doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style, Janet Foster of Westport-based Eco-Chic spoke about her business, which she runs with co-founder Kim Reiter. “We are a luxury green gift box company,” she said. “All our materials are natural and organic, including items for beauty and bath, baby and home. The price point for our gift sets is $60 to $140. I was sick of gift baskets with the cellophane wrap. It’s extra garbage and obscures the view of the product. Our boxes are custom-made and reusable.”

Taking it all in was Westporter Elaine Daignault, sitting with daughter Mia, 8, and Mia’s friend Abby Fleming, 9. “I wanted to support GVI and Club Green and teach the girls about how to preserve the environment,” she said, pausing to add, “and rock out to the music!”

Ducks Dodge Drizzle in Annual Rotary Race

Ducks Dodge Drizzle in 
Annual Rotary Race:
Spectators line river rails to 
catch the drift
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – The weather late Saturday morning – light rain, gray skies and gusty wind -- was really for the birds… ducks specifically. About 2,000 of them.

Stars of The Great Duck Race event sponsored by the Westport Sunrise Rotary, the bright yellow rubber ducks were dropped from Parker Harding Plaza into the Saugatuck River where they rode outgoing currents through a defined grid to a channeled finish line. Each was numbered and tied up with the name of a person that had paid $20 to back. Owners of the top ten finishing fowl received prizing that overall totaled $10,000. All entry fees collected, various sponsor fees and revenue gathered from the sale of duck-themed merchandise benefited the Rotary and, in turn, will benefit area charities.

“This is the third year we’re hosting this,” said Roy Fuchs of the Rotary’s Publicity Committee. “It’s one of two major fundraisers we conduct – the other is a wine tasting at the end of October at Longshore,” he said. “The first year, we raised $20,000; the second year, $30,000. The event is wide open to the public, and an opportunity to enjoy some fun and downtown Westport, while supporting a good cause.”

With regard to the Rotary Club, Fuchs said the organization has over 1.2 million members worldwide and basically operates two kinds of service projects. “We do hands-on efforts in the community, like clean-up days, food drives and homeless shelter dinners,” he said. “We also give cash contributions to charity. At the same time, we have an active program with teens, honoring students-of-the-month at Staples High School and Greens Farms Academy, and a service-oriented Interact Club at Staples.”

Besides the featured duck race, event highlights included a dozen vendor tents, two moonbounce units, a live jazz band, kids’ craft activities and free 10-minute massages provided by Massage Envy. Among the vendors was RxEnergy sunscreen, Down Under Surf Shop, Fire House Hot Dogs, Izzi B’s allergen-free cupcakes and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Corporate sponsors also decorated large rubber ducks, to enter into a contest. Entries were judged by event visitors, who indicated their top three favorites on accompanying lists. Most popular entries were awarded small trophies.

Enjoying all the fun was three-year-old New Canaan resident Caroline Quill, with her grandfather Kevin, from New Hampshire. “My wife is shopping and we just happened to luck out seeing all the duck activity,” the elder Quill said. “Caroline wanted a duck but settled for a duck call.”

Norwalk resident Howard Rose, with his three-year-old son L.J., said he was drawn by the signs around town. “It seemed like a good family event and opportunity to enjoy the day,” he remarked.

Claudia Nielitz, visiting from Stuttgart, Germany with her friend Sandra Holzaepfel, had also seen the street signs and thought the event would be funny to see. “I let friends back home know about it and they said there’s a duck race there, too, but in October, in Tubingen,” she said. “We bought a couple of ducks and are hoping to win.”

According to Rotarian Sheila Keenan, weeks went into planning for the duck release. “It’s been timed for noon, coordinated with the outgoing current, which allows the ducks to travel down river,” she said. “It took a lot of measuring and calculations to get to this point.”

At the appointed hour, the ducks were loaded into the shovel of a front loader and, to much cheering, dumped over the side into a noose of tubing in the water below. This was towed into a larger channel defined by tubing, then opened. The initial forward progress of the flock was hindered by westerly-blowing crosswinds, making the “race” anti-climactic.

“It’s a bit like watching paint dry,” said one of more than 300 spectators crammed against riverside railings, as the ducks then started to clump up on one side.

“My heart is beating, it’s a blistering pace,” joked Bob Lasproga, emcee for the Rotary Club, calling the action over a P.A. system. “That first duck is just outside the chute… he’s got to paddle a little faster… he’s finally in! Give that duck a nice round of applause,” he said.

Results were radioed to tabulators Sheila Keenan and Frankie Smith, and announced by Lasproga. Finishing first and collecting a $5,000 Visa gift card was Scott Schaake of Southbury, CT; second was Nick Clarke of Westport, taking a $1,000 gift card; and third was Westporter Andy Boas, earning a $500 gift card. The top three decorated duck winners were retailers Melissa & Doug, Vintage Virtuosa and Ranney Michaels.

Despite the feather-ruffling weather, a ducky time was had by all.

Pequot Campout Kicks Off Summer Reading Programs

Pequot Campout Kicks Off Summer Reading Programs:
Library’s Great Lawn transforms into family playground
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – As the sun set behind the red tile roof of the stone building, “Summer Wind” was the tune floating in the air, kids ran about with hula hoops and badminton racquets, and adults sat in sports chairs visiting with each other. It was good old-fashioned family fun.

Held Friday evening into Saturday morning, Pequot Library’s Annual Potluck Supper and Campout attracted over a dozen families. They pitched tents on the facility’s Great Lawn and enjoyed contributed food, a bonfire with marshmallow roasting, live music performed by Chris Merwin, badminton, Pop’s ice cream truck, a limbo contest and a sail cloth that adults waved up and down while kids ran under it. The event marked the start of the library’s summer reading programs for adults, tweens/teens and children.

Executive Director Dan Snydacker commented on how suitable the site is for the event. “This is a great place to camp out,” he said. “It’s nice and flat, and the grass is nice and soft. The bears are also well behaved – much better than the Canadian Rockies,” he joked.

Snydacker added, “We love this event and Susan Ei, the Children’s Librarian, does such a great job organizing it. It’s a great use of the Lawn.”

Leslie Mahtani, a library services helper, spoke highly of Ei’s efforts as well. “Susan, who’s worth three times her weight in gold, created this event,” she said, “and my daughter Sitara and I started coming here right from the get-go. I like how many people come out and all the activities.”

Sitara, 18, chimed in, “And it’s a festive way to kick off summer.”

Ei noted that the event is the sixth annual and, historically, the weather has been cooperative. She also commented on how it has grown in popularity. “We went from three tents at the first event to 18 last year,” she said.

Lori Mediate, sitting on the perimeter of the lawn watching all the fun, was another attending who had been coming to the event since its inception. “This is small-town Connecticut Americana,” she said. “And they’re making S’mores – you can’t beat that.”

Struggling to assemble his tent, Fairfielder Tom Lawlor said, “We bought our tent for this event initially. Some years, it’s the only occasion it comes out. And every year I forget how to put it together. I have to relearn every time.”

Lounging along a pathway with several neighbors, Yogesh Sadarangani said the event has become a group destination. “We’re all from Osborne Lane,” he said about his counterparts. “We began this tradition three years ago. It’s a great way to bond. Sure, some of us parents would rather be in our beds, but our kids make us come,” he smiled.

While the weather remained clear and warm through mid-evening, gusts of wind began to kick up and, ultimately, rain arrived after midnight and pummeled the temporary shelters. No doubt its patter on the tents kept light sleepers awake, but then that’s just part of the camping experience.