From Moretown to Warren, a 20-mile stretch of winding road in darkest winter is studded with brightly lit stars of all shapes and sizes. The stars stand on residential lawns and hang from the front of merchant’s shops. Standing anywhere from 3 to 15 feet in height, the stars are handmade by residents and displayed as a way to participate in an annual event here, the Festival of the Lights, which culminated in a prize drawing at Sugarbush that awards cash prizes of up to $1,000. The twist is that the cash prize will be donated to the nonprofit of the winner's choice.
"The Festival of the Lights has been running since 1995," said Rebecca Baruzzi of the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce. "A year after Irene, Bridget LaMell, who owns Reign Vermont, wanted to draw attention to her shop which sits a bit back and closer to the river than the other historic buildings surrounding the covered bridge in Waitsfield. So she created a few simple stars made out of tree saplings and wound Christmas lights around them. People loved it,” Baruzzi continued.
The next year, other shopkeepers on Bridge Street followed suit, even organizing a couple of star-making workshops on the weekends.
"The businesses around Bridge Street are very united in looking for ways to draw people to their shops and this was one of the most popular," said Baruzzi.
Other businesses and residents loved the idea so much that they began making their own stars and displaying them for drivers to admire.
"It really takes the darkness out these early nights," says Baruzzi. "Plus, it's really fun to drive with the kids and ask them to count how many they can find."
In 2014, there were more than 300 stars displayed along the roads of Moretown, Fayston, Waitsfield and Warren.
"Our contest is open to everyone, so we travel up into the hills to see a particular display. But what amazes me is the number of people who have joined in by adding a star or two to their yard. It's actually more unusual to see a house that doesn't have a star," Baruzzi noted.
Baruzzi said that this year the star count was up to 500. "It is a really beautiful, visual way to unite the communities of the Mad River Valley. It's within reach of most of our residents and free to enjoy for everyone." Baruzzi expects most people will leave their stars out until at least the middle to end of January.
The winners of this year’s contest were announced after the Mad River Valley Economic Summit at Sugarbush on December 17. Win Smith, president of Sugarbush, announced the winners and their charities of choice. Below is a list of winners and the street addresses for those who want to take a driving tour of the lights.
Best Community Stars
Historic Waitsfield, Barbra Gulisano, Bridge Street, Waitsfield; Mad River Green, Julie Burns, Mad River Green, Waitsfield; Moretown Elementary School, Duane Pierson, Moretown.
Most Brilliant Decoration of a Business
East Warren Community Market, Ashley Woods, Roxbury Gap Road, Warren; Mad River Massage, Trish Hopkins, 5677 Main Street, Waitsfield; Reign Vermont, Bridget LaMell, 4561 Main Street, Waitsfield.
Most Brilliant Decoration of a Residence
The MacLeod family, Marie MacLeod, 46 Wallis Drive, Waitsfield; the Williams family, Leigh Williams, Dunbar Hill Road, Fayston; the Richards family, C. Richards, 2240 Main Street, Waitsfield.
Biggest Star Ever!
The Burns family, Paul Burns, 361 Orion Road, Warren; the Babic family, Kevin Babic, 3297 Route 100, Warren.
Brightest Shooting Stars
Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom, 3898 Main Street, Waitsfield; the Murphy family, Lauri Murphy, 584 Route 100B, Moretown.
Best Decoration of a Window or Structure
Valley Arts, Gary Eckhart, 5031 Main Street, Waitsfield; Waitsfield Historical Society, Lois DeHeer, 4061 Main Street, Waitsfield.