Written by Sheila Grant: DEXTER - From August 1 to 3, the streets of Dexter will belong to horses and those who ride them during the 6th annual Wild West Weekend. There will be a horse show, parade, children’s games, food and craft vendors, a muscle car cruise-in, live music and celebrating in the streets. The motto for this celebration of Dexter’s downtown and all things “horsy” is “Unite Family and Community, now and in the Future.”
Now, lots of Maine towns hold festivals. Dover-Foxcroft holds “Homecoming,” built around Foxcroft Academy alumni events that brought citizens back home annually. Guilford has the Piscataquis River Festival, held along the banks of said river. Brownville has “Brownville Days” and Milo has “Milo Days” -- no explanation required.
But how, exactly, did the Wild West end up at the 45th parallel of Dexter, Maine?
Like many good ideas ‘round these parts, it all began with a summertime brainstorming session on somebody’s back deck that may or may not have involved cool, refreshing beverages.
“It was Amy Smith and I,” recalled Judy Wilbur Craig, president of the Dexter Regional Development Corporation and Wild West Weekend coordinator. “She was president of the North Country Riding Club and I was president of DRDC.” Both women were members of both organizations -- avid equestrians concerned with the health of their downtown.
“People were pretty glum,” Craig said. “It was after 9-11 and Dexter Shoe was closing. Dexter hadn’t had any festivals or Dexter Days in years. We wanted to be cheerleaders for the Town of Dexter.” The pair had also been discussing ways to educate the public about the fact that, by law, horses have the right of way in Maine -- something dangerous for drivers to ignore. As they brainstormed possible activities, the Wild West theme was born.
Craig is quick to point out that they didn’t do this alone. The festival, which has grown tremendously over the years, has always been spearheaded by the DRDC working in conjunction with the NCRC, the Town of Dexter -- and a LOT of volunteers.
There was no budget that first year. Each business in town was asked to do one thing, whether it be advertise, hold special sales or decorate for the event.
“Just to all be doing something on the same weekend,” Craig said, noting proudly that no tax dollars are spent on this event save for the $1,500 in the municipal budget to cover porta-potty rentals and a bit of advertising.
For very little investment other than the can-do spirit and collaboration of local businesses, the town has seen a big return. The festival continues to grow, drawing thousands of visitors each year. Despite the tough economy, local businesses participate at ever-increasing levels and local farmers donate hundreds of bales of hay. P&L’s Country Market continues to sponsor a pig scramble that about 600 children enter annually.
There is now a town-wide window decorating contest. Bud’s Shop ‘n’ Save has moved Customer Appreciation Day to coincide with the event and even hosts an in-house costume contest for employees. The Dexter Regional High School Alumni moved their annual banquet to Wild West Weekend. The Dexter Fire Department holds their annual auction the following weekend as a wrap-up to the festivities.
The weekend is a fundraiser for many -- Dexter Fire Department holds a rubber ducky race, various sports booster groups hold food sales, and the MSAD #48 food service program also has a concession. The Peaceful Patchers Quilt Show at the Universalist Church will have over 80 quilts on display.
This isn’t just a Dexter effort anymore. There’s a Cowpoke Breakfast in Ripley. Vendors come from all over the state to offer everything from funnel cakes and fresh donuts to hand-painted tiles, custom pet blankets, leather purses and Native American jewelry. Horse owners from far and wide attend the festivities and participate in the all-day equitation show on Sunday.
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