PORTAGE LAKE, Maine — The town of Portage Lake kept its August traditions alive Saturday, Aug. 15, holding a community yard sale and fireworks display in a summer that has seen numerous County events canceled.
The yard sale event came as a replacement for the town’s well-known Whoopie Pie Festival, which was unable to proceed because of COVID-19 restrictions. That replacement event came with one caveat: among the only requirements for the 15 vendors on Saturday was that they offer whoopie pies for sale.
Saturday’s events reflected how municipalities have been forced to adapt longtime traditions to social distancing. While the Whoopie Pie Festival featured several people in one place, the dispersed nature of the yard sales prevented participants from each gathering coming close to the legal limit of 50.
Traffic was intense during the sales, with many residents buying items from several different houses. Most shoppers lived in the tight-knit community of Portage Lake, while others came from nearby Ashland. A smaller group made the 50-minute drive from the Presque Isle area.
Portage Lake Town Clerk Corrine Routhier said reactions from residents had been positive. She had been especially surprised by the number of people holding yard sales — more than she had seen make pastries for the Whoopie Pie Festival.
In contrast to previous festivals, often held on the town’s tennis court, she said this year’s festivities allowed participants to see all of Portage Lake.
“This is great because it’s spread out all over town,” Routhier said. “It gives people who have never really been to our town a chance to see different areas.”
As other summer festivals — such as the Potato Blossom Festival and Crown of Maine Balloon Fest — canceled activities, Routhier had worried that any events held by the town could become a COVID-19 spread risk if too many people participated. She said that had not been an issue with the yard sale, as the gatherings were spread out, and many residents wore masks.
Summer homes are commonplace in Maine, and Portage Lake is no different. Routhier said several residents participated as they were spending time in the town for the summer. This included Beverly Miller, who also lives in Berlin, Connecticut.
Miller was amazed by the turnout from the town’s residents. Her display featured several goods along with homemade whoopie pies.
“We have more customers here than the tag sale in Berlin, and that’s a much bigger town,” Miller said. “So that tells you that it’s a whole different community.”
Erin Gagnon grew up in Portage Lake but now spends most of the year in Windham. As her children grew older, she enjoyed seeing some of their old toys go to new homes.
Like many others, she wishes the Whoopie Pie Festival had been possible. Yet, recognizing the circumstances, she especially enjoyed the community-building aspect of the yard sale.
“The festival has always been a really good place for the kids and us to gather,” Gagnon said. “This is a little bit more separate, but I think it’s good.”
Serena Bonville sold 65 whoopie pies to people from around The County, from Eagle Lake to Easton. A veteran of the Whoopie Pie Festival, she was happy to be able to sell the treats to so many.
“We had to do it a little bit different this year,” Bonville said. “But it was really awesome to take part in again.”
Kim Holmes used the yard sale as the opportunity to sell items from her late parents’ home. While she could have had a yard sale under any circumstances, she knew the organized effort would ensure that they had a lot of traffic.
Capping the day of yard sale activities, the annual fireworks display launched at 8:30 p.m. Hundreds of residents from around Portage Lake watched the display, some from shores and some from their boats.
“I’m glad that they could continue to have it, and I’m glad we’re having fireworks tonight,” Holmes said. “I think that The County, as well as the whole country, needs some sense of normalcy.”