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Communities combined: Annual Bridgefest draws crowds to Hancock, Houghton

Annual Bridgefest draws crowds to Hancock, Houghton

HOUGHTON — Large crowds turned out on both sides of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge for the 37th annual Bridgefest in Houghton and Hancock.

The yearly celebration included live music, vendors, games and food at the Ray Kestner Waterfront Park, a classic car show in downtown Hancock, and Touch-a-Truck competition and tours of the tall ship Zeeto at the downtown Houghton pier.

“The weather turned nice, so that’s on our side,” said Bridgefest coordinator Katie Schlief. “The water activities look good, the music’s good. It’s packed. We’re happy with the crowd.”

This year’s Bridgefest introduced a hot dog-eating contest, which drew curious onlookers to watch 10 contestants churn through a heap of dogs.

“Five were completed fully in three-and-a-half minutes, so that was fun,” Schlief said.

On their way in to Kestner, people could browse from among 48 vendors, selling everything from T-shirts to jewelry. In a change from previous years, the vendors were condensed closer to the main crowds at Kestner instead of spreading out along Lakeshore Drive.

Though food vendors are becoming harder to find, they still ended up with 14, Schlief said, selling everything from fry bread to gyros.

Local community groups also raised funds through entertaining displays.

Houghton and Hancock’s hockey programs raised funds through a dunk tank, splitting up five hours Saturday afternoon for fans to soak their favorite player or coach.

About 30 people had come through with more than an hour left in Houghton’s slot, said Houghton coach Micah Stipech. Houghton also raised money through a cornhole tournament, which drew 16 players.

“We’re thankful that they allowed us to do this,” said Houghton varsity coach Micah Stipech. “The sun came out, and then the people came out.”

Vaughn Viola, 6, of Dollar Bay was one of the kids who lined up to send Jace DeForge into the tank. (The line also included DeForge’s brother, Pax).

“I like when the guy goes into the water,” Viola said.

Vaughn’s mother, Emily Viola, said her kids had also enjoyed the bouncy houses.

“It’s always a fun time to be with the community,” she said.

Simple Kindness for Youth sold off tickets for Chicken Bingo, in which people tried to guess on which square a chicken would leave droppings. (Or the square it was standing on, if the chicken would not cooperate within 10 minutes.)

With a vantage point to watch both the Chicken Bingo and the Ski-Ters water show, Mike Sotack of Mohawk relaxed in a tree. He’d gone to his first Bridgefest decades ago while visiting his grandparents. He recently moved back to the area to take over his great-grandparents’ farm. He couldn’t narrow down his favorite part of Bridgefest, saying “I just like experiencing everything.”

“It’s nice to come out and see the people,” he said. “It’s all about community. You’ve got so many family-friendly events for everybody — the music, food, even entertainment.”

Friday night, the streets from Lincoln Drive to Franklin Square were lined with kids eager for candy and people of all ages excited to see new floats. In a new development, this year’s parade had a theme, “Decades of Freedom.”

The winner was Dave’s BP, followed by Houghton Hockey and BHK Child Development.

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