Lakes Region community crossing fingers for winter fun

Sunday News Correspondent
January 07. 2017 10:35PM
Alan J. Nute, owner and operator of A.J.'s Bait and Tackle in Meredith, works Saturday afternoon on an ice-fishing tip-up for a customer. Nute is looking forward to February's Great Rotary Ice Fishing Derby, which is held throughout the state but is headquartered on Meredith Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee, a short distance from his Maple Street business. (John Koziol/Sunday News Correspondent)

LACONIA - The return of snow and cold temperatures is making people here and throughout the Lakes Region hopeful that the upcoming New England Pond Hockey Classic, the Great Rotary Ice-Fishing Derby and the Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby will all be successful.

Expected to draw thousands of participants, supporters and spectators, the events begin Feb. 3 in Meredith with the three-day Pond-Hockey Classic.

Since its inception in 2010, the PHC has grown to 275 teams from all over the Northeast and as far west as Michigan and is now, according to organizer Scott Crowder, the second largest such competition in the U.S.

The sled dogs and their mushers arrive in the City on the Lakes on Feb. 10 and stay through the 12th, when the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club, which is the manager of the 88th running of the event, awards a $20,000 purse, said Jim Lyman, who is the club's president and trail boss.

Concurrent to the sled dog derby, the Meredith Rotary Club's 38th Great Rotary Ice Fishing Derby takes place Feb. 11 and 12 statewide, but it is headquartered on Meredith Bay on the upper reaches of Lake Winnipesaukee.

In February 2016, a fickle Mother Nature brought warm weather to the Lakes Region, causing the PHC to be moved from Meredith Bay to nearby Lake Waukewan; a postponement in the fishing derby; and the outright cancellation of the sled-dog derby.

Lyman, who noted that the Laconia world championship is the oldest and largest sprint race series in the lower 48 states, said the early indicators are positive.

"We have a decent base, which a lot of times we don't, and now we need more snow. It's too early for us to start preparing the trail," said Lyman, but that time is coming.

Ideally, the sled dog derby - which since it began nearly nine decades ago has been shortened once and canceled 11 times, five times since 2006.

In years when Mother Nature is less generous with the snow, the race course is amended and can go over either a frozen Lake Opechee and/or Lake Winnisquam.

While he'd rather go with an all-land course, the good news for 2017 is that both Opechee and Winnisquam are icing up, said Lyman, and could be put into use for the sled-dog derby.

Lyman expects a strong turnout of mushers from across eastern and southern Canada and from New England and the Midwest.

The 2017 sled-dog derby is dedicated to the memory of Keith F. Bryar II, who died from cancer on Feb. 20, 2016 at the age of 57.

A Lakes Region-local - he was from Moultonborough - Bryar won the Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby in 2002 and 2011 and placed in the top 3 several times. Lyman was the handler of Bryar's dog team and also raced his second team.

After his death, Bryar's dogs were given to other mushers, including to his nieces, Rachel and Brittany Colbath of Gilford, both racers, said Lyman.

Several miles north of the sled-dog derby start line, the Meredith Rotary Club, through its Facebook page, is counting down the days to the ice-fishing derby, which is one of the club's biggest fundraisers and, like the sled-dog derby, comes with a sizeable top prize - $15,000.

The ice-fishing derby has been postponed once prior to 2016, but never canceled, according to the club, and Alan Nute, owner of A.J.'s Bait and Tackle in downtown Meredith, is confident that it will take place this year as scheduled.

The smaller lakes around Meredith and some of the bays on Lake Winnipesaukee are frozen or freezing up, he said, adding "Everybody's excited because of the way the winter's going so far. The ice is decent for this time of year and we're on target for a big derby."

The derby is an economic driver for his 20-year old business and for many others, said Nute, who on Saturday was preparing tip-ups for customers and also selling lots of bait. Ice augers have been in much demand, he observed, and some of the newer models are already gone from his shelves.

In addition to augers being hot, derby tickets are also selling extremely well at A.J.'s, said Nute, "because of the confidence that the derby will be held on time."

Like Lyman and Nute, Crowder, who founded the PHC and is its chief executive, is optimistic that his event will go on as planned.

Although he hopes he doesn't have to go to "Plan B" on Lake Waukewan, that plan is in place.

"Ideally, we'd like to play on Meredith Bay. This is our location, but a number of factors are out of the hands of the organizers and one of the largest is the weather," said Crowder on Saturday morning. A four-year member of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst's hockey team, Crowder and his family are steeped in hockey and vacation in the Lakes Region.

His father, Bruce, played professionally with the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins before becoming a collegiate coach, and his uncle, Keith, had a long career with the B's that finished with the Los Angeles Kings.

"We've had to slide over to Waukewan twice in the first seven years, but I'm hoping that we won't have to in 2017," said Crowder, except as safety demands it.

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