5K race joins Norwich Winter Festival events

Norwich - The city's two main events for the annual Winter Festival once again will each have their own day this year.

The 22nd annual Light up City Hall event will return to its long-time traditional time slot on the Friday evening after Thanksgiving starting at 4 p.m., while the Winter Festival Parade will step off at 1 p.m. Saturday from Chelsea Parade.

A third event that promises to bring hundreds of runners to Norwich will be added to the festivities Saturday. Reliance House Inc., which provides services to people with mental illness throughout southeastern Connecticut, has partnered with the Hartford Marathon Foundation to create the Winterfest 5K Saturday morning prior to the parade.

Friday's Light up City Hall festival will run from 4 to 5:30 p.m., with Santa's arrival and the countdown to turn on the City Hall and plaza tree lights. Entertainment prior to the lighting will include annual favorites, such as Richard Rothstein's magic show, ventriloquist Donald Beebe and a carol sing. Solo singer Sydney Smith will sing traditional Christmas favorites.

The Friday festival will include free horse-drawn wagon rides through downtown, food and novelty vendors and Clown City balloon art.

The Winterfest 5K on Saturday will start and finish at Norwich Free Academy. Enrollment opens at 9 a.m. A free FitKids Fun Run will kick off at 10:30 a.m., and the 5K race will start at 11 am. Additional race activities will include a meet-and-greet with Amby Burfoot, the 1968 Boston Marathon winner and Runner's World editor, and face painting.

The top overall female and male finishers will be awarded $200, second place will receive $100, and third place will collect $50. There will be honors awarded to top finishers in various age categories. The awards ceremony is slated for noon at the Slater Museum Atrium at NFA.

The race will benefit Reliance House, and $1 from every registration donated to the John Kelley Memorial Fund, a campaign to erect a statue of the late Boston Marathon winner from Mystic.

David Wigfield, organizer of the Winter Festival Parade, estimated there should be about a half-hour break between the race activities and the start of the parade at 1 p.m. from Chelsea Parade across from NFA. He hopes many of the estimated 300 to 500 road racers will stick around to watch the popular parade that seems to be growing each year.

As of the end of last week, the parade had five dance troupes, 15 floats - 10 of them new this year - and three bands. The band Malaena will play on one float, and the ShopRite Supermarket cow is expected to ride on another float.

Dancers, singers and other live acts will perform three short shows along the route of the parade and one major performance at Franklin Square, where parade judges will be stationed.

Prizes will be awarded for best dance, best band entry, best decorated fire truck, most creative display of any sort, best use of greenery, best use of this year's theme: "Norwich Winter Fest in Glorious Color," judges' choice, and farthest distance traveled.

The parade grand marshal this year will be 40-year WICH-AM 1310 radio talk show host Stu Bryer, while Wigfield plans to take up the rear.

"I'm usually the last one walking in the parade," he said.

All events - except the road race - are free and open to the public. The Winter Festival Committee has received donations of cash and services from local businesses.

c.bessette@theday.com

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