It's beginning to look a lot like winter -- Winterfest, that is.

Entering its third year at Bond Lake Park on Lower Mountain Road, the popular event, featuring such family favorites as tube races, sledding, ice skating and cross-country skiing, has never been without snow, said Carol Schmelz.

"We've always been lucky," she said. And if this weekend's shift to wintry weather continues, that luck should hold out for yet another year.

But organizers are making contingency plans -- just in case. This is Western New York, after all, favorite winter stopover for the famed January thaw.

Snow or not, Winterfest '99 is scheduled to take place from 10 a.m to 3 p.m. Jan. 16 at scenic, 545-acre Bond Lake Park. Aside from the usual outdoor activities, the Saturday events will include face painting, a Chinese auction, a chowder and pizza sale and a slapshot hockey tournament, all slated for inside the park's Warming House.

That's right, there will be indoor activities -- in front of the stone fireplace and within easy reach of the vending machines -- for all the hardy souls looking to come in from the cold.

Winterfest is sponsored by the Bond Lake Environmental and Beautification Committee, which in the past has used funds raised during Winterfest to restore and improve facilities within the park.

"We're kind of a 'Friends of the Park' committee," said Ms. Schmelz, the committee's public relations director. "We started off to raise funds for a nature center, and we're continuing to make outside improvements and to develop a nature center inside the Warming House."

The center would offer exhibits, nature videos viewable on a videocassette player and large-screen TV and a "self-guided course for the park's trails," Ms. Schmelz said.

Hikers would be directed to important geological sites and be informed on the history of the area as they traversed the park's paths, she said. The ultimate goal would be to convert the park into a year-round environmental education center, committee chairman Mark Gray said.

But that's all a bit down the road. First up is Winterfest, which offers a little something for everyone in the family.

Although unseasonable weather in the days after Christmas softened the ice on the two outdoor skating rinks a bit, workers are busily preparing them for the event, park foreman Pat Kenney said.

"We have no equipment to freeze things," he said. "We're just at the mercy of the weather, and right now everything is green -- it would be better for Summerfest," he said last week, just hours before the white stuff made a dramatic return to the slopes off the escarpment.

Kenney said the festival will offer "more than enough stuff, even if the weather doesn't cooperate," with the ski lodge-like Warming House being the central venue.

Kenney said that skis are no longer rented out at the park, so organizers suggest that participants bring their own if they plan to ski.

Ms. Schmelz said that she also plans to bump up chowder production this year, in light of sellouts in each of the festival's first two years.

Organizers are also seeking donations of articles or services -- "maybe things like dental or veterinary, or from people who do crafts," Ms. Schmelz said -- for the festival's Chinese auction. To contribute, contact auction chairwoman Sue Race at 731-5284.

The Bond Lake Committee, a group of naturalists with an interest in the park, according to Ms. Schmelz, recently secured a $39,000 grant from the Niagara County Environment Fund to facilitate improvements at the Bond Lake Park.

The former ski rental area will be refurbished on the order of Tifft Nature Farms or the Buffalo Museum of Science, Gray said, with wildlife displays, exhibits about habitats and ecosystems and taxidermy examples.

Heavily used for sledding and cross-country skiing in the winter, Bond Lake Park could also provide the perfect site for bird watching, nature walks, fishing and canoeing during warmer months, Gray said. He estimates that park improvements will be completed within two years.

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