AUBURN — The city will convert Festival Plaza into a big open-air ice rink for the annual Winter Festival celebration at the end of the month.

Jasmine McLoughlin, Auburn’s recreation specialist, said the downtown rink will be one of two key venues for the annual festival, scheduled for Jan. 29-31.

“It will cover the whole plaza,” McLoughlin said. “There will be a small portion left at the front for the ice sculptor to do his thing. But other than that, they are turning pretty much the whole plaza into a giant ice rink. It’ll be really cool once it’s set up.”

A free city shuttle bus will connect the plaza with events at Lost Valley ski area throughout the festival, she said.

“Just listening to community member comments about the festival and feedback from the past, the biggest comment before was that things were really spread out, and people had a hard time getting to all the events,” she said. “So we wanted to have it some place central this year, and really condensed to as few locations as possible.”

This will be the 16th year for the annual winter recreation festival. This year’s program will focus on the downtown and Lost Valley Ski area. Downtown events will include the ice rink, a nearby snow playground for kids, stories and crafts at the Auburn Public Library and ice-sculpting demonstrations. Pinky D’s food truck will be offering grilled cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate from 3 to 8 p.m. on Friday and Gritty McDuff’s will host an outdoor ice bar at the plaza from 6 to 10 p.m. on Saturday.

Crews from the Norway Savings Bank Arena should begin setting up the boards and a floor to hold the ice on Jan. 22, the Friday before the festival.

“We really have our fingers crossed for the weather,” she said. “Festival Plaza is a phenomenal place, right downtown and super-accessible to everything — and I think its beautiful.”

The more active events will be held at Lost Valley, including a bonfire and sledding, discounted lift tickets and disk golf demonstrations. Baxter Brewing is hosting an outdoor duathlon on Saturday, combining cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on a 10-kilometer course. The ski area is also hosting a free rail jam at noon and a torchlight parade at 8 p.m. on Saturday.

Whiting Farm is hosting a five-kilometer fat tire bike race at 11 a.m. Sunday and the ski area hosts the Maine Ski Challenge slalom race at 1 p.m.

For more information, visit the city of Auburn’s website , www.auburnmaine.gov, for go to the Winter Festival’s page on Facebook.

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