BETHEL — People of all ages turned out in droves for Saturday's 52nd annual MollyOckett Days festival, catching a parade, a North American wildlife presentation and live music.
For the first time since the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce took over running the festival two years ago, Main Street was closed to traffic to lessen crowd impact at vendor and presentation sites on the Town Common.
Maine Native American culture debuted at the festival, which recognizes Molly Ockett, an Abenaki healing woman from the 18th and 19th centuries.
"We made some decisions this year about opening up Main Street and adding vendors there so the festival is a little bit more dispersed, which helps with the crushing feeling that we typically have here on the common," said Robin Zinchuk, executive director of the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce.
Closing the Main Street section to all but pedestrian traffic incorporated businesses along the street into the festival.
That decision paid off as the first day of the two-day festival attracted several hundred people and families. The weather also cooperated.
The traditional parade kicked off festivities at 10 a.m. under a partly-cloudy sky with temperatures in the low to mid-80s and a nice breeze to keep biting insects at bay. People continued to stream in all afternoon.
"I think the crowd is great," Zinchuk said. "The weather is wonderful. It couldn't be better; not too, too hot, but warm enough and pleasant to be out here and it looks like people are having a good time, and that's our goal."
For missionaries Jediah and Sarah Tanguay and their children, Kezia, 3, and Liliana, 1, all of Lusaka, Zambia, Africa, it was a chance to enjoy traditions and to socialize.
"We grew up taking summer vacations up at Songo Pond, so it's been a few days before MollyOckett catching frogs with the canoe, and then we'd rent them out for the Frog Jumping Contest for about an hour," Jediah Tanguay said.
"But we'd test them first and I don't know if that was the secret, but we were always in first, second or third place ourselves," he said. "We'd pick out the good jumpers."
The Tanguay family reunion was timed for the festival. He said it took a 10-hour drive and a 17-hour flight from Africa just to reach Bethel.
"We're just up here for a week, enjoying Songo Pond and MollyOckett Days," Tanguay said.
While her husband left to get the frogs for the 1 p.m. contest, Sarah, who grew up in West Africa, and Kezia joined about 100 adults and children for Derek Small's 45-minute presentation on North American wildlife.
Small is the founder and executive director of The W.I.L.D. Center and Zoological Park of New England in Rochester, N.H.
The center is home to 130 rescued, abandoned, confiscated or captive-bred creatures representing more than 70 species of non-releasable wildlife.
During the live-animal show, Small brought out, one at a time, a skunk, a Virginia opossum, an alligator snapping turtle, a nine-banded armadillo, a coatimundi, two Egyptian fruit bats, and a 40-pound baby American alligator.
The fruit bats were used to highlight his talk on white-nose syndrome, a fungus that is killing millions of bats in North America.
For the Native American culture displays, Zinchuk said they brought in Barry Dana of the Penobscot Nation Cultural Heritage Center; Butch Jacobs, a traditional basket maker; and Fredda Paul, a traditional Passamaquoddy medicine healer from Pleasant Point.
Sunday's events are competitive running and walking races for children and adults, and a scavenger hunt.