HARTFORD —— The city's annual Winterfest celebration is gaining popularity, with a roughly 50 percent increase in visitors so far this season.
About 45,000 people have visited the festival at Bushnell Park so far, organizers said, up from roughly 30,000 at this point last year. Of this year's visitors, about 25,000 people have skated at the free ice rink.
The city also saw a jump in attendees at the opening ceremony Nov. 23, with 5,000 this year, up from 2,500 in 2011. About 6,500 people skated at the rink during the festival's opening weekend this year.
"We're pleased. We definitely wanted to see the numbers go up," said Kristina Newman-Scott, director of the city's marketing, events and cultural affairs division and chairwoman of the Winterfest committee. "We've been marketing it more heavily, there's more programming. We weren't trying to set a goal … we just worked very hard."
About 2,000 children have taken photographs with Santa — a free feature of the festival on weekends -- and 7,000 people rode the park's carousel, Newman-Scott said.
The ice rink, which features free skating, rentals and lessons, has been extended to roughly 100 feet by 100 feet, an increase from last year's 80- by 90-foot structure. It accommodates as many as 175 skaters at a time, and skaters are rotated every 45 minutes.
Newman-Scott said while there's been a mix of visitors from the city and the suburbs, the festival has attracted more suburbanites this year, with attendees coming from as far away as Greenwich, Chester and New Britain.
Winterfest is funded through corporate sponsorships. Top contributors include Travelers, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, The Hartford Financial Services Group, The Phoenix Companies Inc., UnitedHealthcare, Prudential, All Waste Inc., LAZ Parking, Mohegan Sun and USA Hauling & Recycling.
The overall fundraising goal is $320,000, Julio Concepcion, vice president of Hartford partnerships for MetroHartford Alliance, who is working with iQuilt on the event, has said. More than $200,000 was raised prior to the festival opening, and organizers said they are still collecting money.
Public skating hours are from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from noon to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day hours are noon to 4 p.m., and New Year's Eve hours are noon to 1 a.m. The rink will be open its regular hours on New Year's Day.
The Bushnell Park carousel runs on Saturdays and Sundays, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., through December 30. It will run from 2 p.m. to midnight on New Year's Eve. The cost is $1 per ride.
Winterfest runs through Jan. 21. The event drew about 50,000 skaters during its run last winter.
For more information, visit Hartford.com.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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