Out for an icy thrill
EAGLES MERE - "Clomp, clomp, clomp."
In their winter boots, people walk through the snow and slush andâ¦stand in line.
It's a line that stretches, stretches, stretches down the street on a wintry Sunday in Eagles Mere, Sullivan County.
It's a little like a Disney World line or the line to sit on Santa's lap.
Only it's cold. No Florida sun or shopping mall central heating here to keep anybody warm, no sir.
And what are all the men, women and children waiting for in the little village that is caught in the icy grip of winter?
Why, they're waiting to ride the Eagles Mere Toboggan Slide, of course.
It's back, yes, it's back. Ladies and gentlemen, there it is, waiting to whisk you away.
"It's a thrill, it's like the steep point of a roller coaster," says Ray Wilson, chief of the Eagles Mere Volunteer Fire Department, which runs the slide with other fire companies in the area - Laporte, Muncy Valley, Forksville, Hillsgrove, Eldredsville, Dushore, Endless Winds and Mildred. The slide has been open since Friday.
One by one, the toboggans are loaded up with people and then they shoot down the slide.
Yelps of delight can be heard.
"Yeee-hawww!" shouts one person riding down the slope.
Aaron Ledger, Muncy Valley Fire Chief, is on duty at the top of the slide, watching over people as they load up.
He has no advice to the riders, other than "just hang on."
"You can't ask for a better day," he says of the winter weather.
Another fire department volunteer, Murph Hacker, gives one group of riders a farewell before they shoot down the slide.
"We'll see ya!"
Jane Foust is riding with her four-year-old grandson, Ben Koser.
Downhill, the slide lay before them like the spine of a frozen beast submerged in the snow.
"I love it," she exclaims. "This is awesome."
And then, they're off. Particles of ice - or is it snow, or both? - dance in the air behind them. Their toboggan looks smaller and smaller as they go downhill, becoming a speck in the end. And once it's over, it's time for the trek back up hill.
Yes, the slide is a thrill, judging by the reactions of everyone. For adults, it no doubt looks like the simple fun of childhood, the heady rush of days gone by - unless, in fact, you're a child. Then, it's just the fun of growing up - like chasing seagulls at the beach, hitting a homerun at Little League, flying a kite on a windy March day.
"It's a long, long wait for a little ride, but it's worth it," says Katelyn Williams of Shunk.
"Exhilarating" is how she describes the ride down the slope.
A child, BriAnna Brown of Forksville, who is in Williams' group, thinks the toboggan ride is "awesome." She explains how she would describe it to a friend over the phone (ring, ringâ¦hello?): "It was really fun, it was fast, come and do it."
But, of course, there are rules. There are always rules, aren't there?
These ones are written on two signs on a little building at the area at the top of the slide.
They're printed in all capital letters, as if delivered by an old-fashioned schoolmarm - hair on top of her head in a bun, glasses on the end of her nose, dress down to the floor, her finger pointing:
"RIDE AT YOUR OWN RISK"
"KEEP AWAY FROM TOBOGGAN TRACK"
"NO THROWING SNOWBALLS"
And what about that cold? Yes, it's a real corker today. Old Man Winter - whoever he is - is up to all his old tricks.
That old Foreigner song - "Cold as Ice" - comes to mind. Brrrrrrâ¦
But never fear. There's a way to warm up those bones, to get the chill out, to get the blood moving again.
A warming hut - actually a sign that identifies it as simply the "Warming Building" - is the place to go. There's heat inside here and gloves, mittens, hats, and scarves can be placed atop a grate like hamburgers and hot dogs on a grill. But the fun is outside, after all, and that's the place to be.
Not that this is new - the tradition of the slide dates back to 1904. The Eagles Mere Volunteer Fire Department and community volunteers build it each year. However, some years it's just too warm. The slide hasn't been in operation since 2011, so this year is a special year.
"It's cold enough, I can tell you," says Shelly Vest, secretary-treasurer of the Eagles Mere Toboggan Slide Association.
Freezing temperatures and good ice, says Wilson, are some of the ingredients in the recipe for this winter delight - a dish served cold, of course. "Good ice" is ice without air bubbles and air pockets, according to Vest.
And it's a lot of ice - a lot.
This year, 876 blocks were used to build the slide, weighing 275 pounds each. Vest says the total weight for the slide comes in at an astounding 250,000 pounds.
The blocks are cut from Eagles Mere Lake, and put on a conveyor and then loaded onto a trailer, which is driven to Lake Avenue, which slopes down to the lake. The blocks are placed onto the avenue to form the slide.
And the riders, they come from so many places, not just the local area, but states including Maryland, Ohio, and New Jersey.
"They're dedicated riders," Wilson says.
What keeps bringing the people back, year after year?
"It's the thrill," the fire chief says.
Today, he's helping to fix a toboggan. There are 42 of them in the fleet, and they're made of the same design that's been used since the beginning.
And Barbie Gale, an innkeeper in town at the Eagles Mere Inn on Mary Avenue, knows a good thing when she sees it. She knows the slide draws people into town in the dead of winter, and that means business.
"It increases business for everyone in the town," she says. She sees an upswing in walk-in customers and reservations. Families come to town.
Vest agrees. She says the slide brings a lot of people to a place that's usually only busy in the summertime.
Ah, the good 'ol summertime - lots of sun, a warm breeze, flip-flops and swimming. But not today - not in Eagles Mere.
It's winter and people are reveling in its icy, cold, snowy glory - and they're loving it.
So, if you want to have some winter fun, if you want to slide down a slope and leave your cares behind, just head out to Eagles Mere and grab a toboggan.
The slide will be open weekends, as long as weather permits. The cost is $25 per hour per toboggan, with at least two rides guaranteed, depending on how busy things are. Each toboggan holds five people. For more information, call the association at (570) 525-3244.
The hours of operation for the toboggan slide are Fridays, 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Toboggan rentals end one hour before closing.
Eric Hrin can be reached at (570) 297-5251; email: email@example.com.