Zip line, volcano, cave planned for Winterfest 2013
This winter a snow volcano will again erupt over Bethel. But it won’t be the only action attraction.
Engineer Jim Sysko is also planning a zip line running from the top of the volcano, as well as a lighted snow cave at its core.
Sysko and Robin Zinchuk, executive director of the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, presented preliminary plans for the Winterfest project to the Bethel selectmen Monday night.
Zinchuk also asked that the Town of Bethel take on the overall organizational role for the annual Winterfest, scheduled for late January.
The request, said Town Manager Jim Doar, “is driven by insurance needs.”
Last year's snow volcano was created by piling snow around a bundle of vertical logs. The logs were set on fire to produce an "eruption" effect.The snow pile also doubled as a sledding hill before and after the fire. But Zinchuk said the insurance was very expensive. To insurance companies, she said, “Sledding seems to be a huge risk.”
The town, however, is protected under the Maine Tort Claims Act, which limits municipal liability.
Zinchuk and Sysko said the sliding component was very popular last year, and they would like to offer it again.
“Grownups and little kids loved the thing,” said Sysko. They were up there all the time.”
This season’s “eruption” is scheduled for Jan. 26. Plans also call for using the hill for the annual Snowboard and Ski Rail Jam competition.
To construct the hill, the town would again haul snow removed from village streets to the “Festival Plaza” lot near the Parkway, where it would provide most of the material for the volcano. Zinchuk said the plan could also save the town time and fuel for snow disposal, because of the central location.
Sunday River Ski Resort would provide snowmaking to top off the volcano, and would sculpt it with its grooming equipment.
Cave, zip line
Sysko described additional plans to complement the volcano.
The snow hill would have two tunnels at its base to provide air for fueling the fire. He is also proposing to add a brush pile under the snow pile for added fuel.
And, he said, “What that will do, after we set it off, is create a room inside.” The room would be about 50 feet in diameter.
“We’d have two air intakes that would be big enough for people to walk in … We could put lights in there, we could put picnic tables in there, we could put a barbecue in there. We could have people eating in there, lounging out of the wind. The parents could be in there while the kids are sledding on the surface.”
As for the safety of such an arrangement, he said he has learned from experience that the heating and cooling of the snow pile turns it into “a monolithic block of ice. There’s no way it can collapse.”
But the room would have to be approved by the town’s insurance company, he said.
After the eruption, said Sysko, a wooden platform built on top of the volcano could serve as the launching point for a 400-foot double zip line, which would run to the nearby street corner. The zip line would be a one- or two-day activity only.
Last summer Sysko engineered a similar zip line in Rumford.
Doar said insurance for the line in Bethel could be a bit more of a question. But, he said, taxpayers will not have to pay for any expenses related to insurance for the project.
Selectmen unanimously approved the town’s role in the project, which will be overseen by a committee working with Doar.
Selectman Pat Carter praised last year’s project. “It was a joy to watch the kids sliding,” she said.
Selectman Don Bennett said that he has been asked by people from time to time, “‘What are they going to do next?’ I say, ‘you never know what Jim is going to come up with.’”
In other business Monday, the board learned that the Bethel Rotary Club will no longer light the large spruce tree on the Common for the Christmas season.
The club donated $800 left over from its fund to the town, which Doar suggested could be used to purchase a smaller, one-season tree to light. Selectmen approved the recommendation.