Article by Alexa Tironi

The wheels squeak and crackle on the pavement, attached to a four-poster bed and a mattress, as they barrel towards the finish line. Four people make the wheels turn, pushing the bed by an iron rod attached at each corner, while a fifth person lays flat on the mattress and tries not to fall off.

It’s called bed racing, a 55-year-old fundraising sport, and an old Fall Festival tradition in Blairstown, NJ. Here’s how it works: teams of five or six decorate their bed according to a chosen theme, each run their race individually— fastest time wins.

At Blairstown’s most recent festival, Saturday the 16th, seven bed racing teams competed for the trophy (a bedpost spray painted gold, but it’s more about the bragging rights anyway). Hosted by the Blairstown Enhancement Committee (BEC), the Fall Festival was held at Footbridge Park rather than Main Street, as it has in years past.

But the park is the perfect venue, the fall leaves that scatter the ground look like a colorful patchwork quilt and the sun is out and warm. It’s that time of year where you can enjoy the pumpkins and apple cider without cold fingers and toes.

This year’s bed race was the first contest held after over two decades of abandonment. Kevin Doell, the communication director for the BEC, explained the reason behind the revival of this town tradition saying, “It’s building community— it’s something fun, light-hearted, everyone can agree upon it, let’s just come out and have a good time.”

The day of the festival, it was Doell who refereed the races. Standing in the bed of a parked pickup truck, holding a megaphone and an air horn, he had the energy of a NASCAR commentator.

“And they’re off, and they’re quickly learning about the finer points of bed racing. Coming past the hay bales they reach the halfway point!”

To the team dressed as eggs and bacon, he shouts, “Here comes breakfast in bed! Are the racers ready? Talk about fast food!”

A team of doctors dressed in scrubs joins the race, along with a family of skeletons, elves and a group of ministers wearing clerical collars. In the end, Team Breakfast took the competition sunny side up to win the day.

Take a deep breath and you can smell the aroma floating from the food trucks idling near the parking lot, serving the crowd as they chew and sway to the music played by a local band. People sit for face paintings, peruse tables run by local art vendors, and meet representatives of local organizations.

Paul Avery, the project manager to Blairstown’s up-and-coming online newspaper, the Ridge View Echo, said the day’s activities were a “Great event for the town. I think this was such a success, it’s really established it as an annual event now, it’s gonna be great.”

Head of advertising to the Ridge View Echo and a Rotarian, John Maxman, chuckled, remembering the last Fall Festival, and Bed Race he ran in, “And then, after, we sold the bed! Somebody bought the stupid bed, why, I don’t know!”

After the races, people begin to meander about the park. Under the pavilion, big orange pumpkins are set up on picnic tables next to bottles of paint and brushes, while kids decorate them to their liking.

Under a tent, Ashely Hineline takes pictures of her 5-year-old daughter, Emerson, as she gets her face painted. With butterfly-covered cheeks, Emerson bounces around talking about the bed races and her pumpkin painting plans. Hineline heard about the event from Facebook. “I thought it seems like a really great thing for our community and a lot of fun. I brought my children, my mother, my mother-in-law…it’s a big family outing.” Hineline is a teacher at Blairstown Elementary School and mentions that she enjoys seeing past students and their families. As if on cue, two children come pinwheeling down the hill, shouting her name, to hug her from both sides.

 

A FUTURE VISION FOR FOOTBRIDGE PARK

A week before the festival, BEC members brought a bed down to the local farmer’s market to do some last-minute advertising. President Dave Paulson explained the organization’s focus on Footbridge Park for the festival and future projects.

“Footbridge park is actually one of the most underutilized resources we have here, it’s largest public parking space in town, and it’s directly attached or adjacent to the main street. We have a one-of-a-kind historic footbridge that leads from the park over to the downtown area… that may be the place where you start putting your first building blocks…it all made sense”

After the Fall Festival, Footbridge Park’s revitalization will continue in unique ways. BEC membership director, Evie Tilney, spoke about the up-and-coming projects, the first being a concrete-poured skate park. Around 25 years ago plans for a skatepark were submitted to the town committee, but the proposal was denied.

“Now that it’s an Olympic sport I think a lot of folks understand that it’s a really healthy, productive physical activity,” said Tilney.

She continued, “It would be a recreation spot for young people who may not be involved in other things like organized teams… kids can go hang out, skate, and then you can walk across the highway to go get a sandwich or get a drink at Dale’s…it’s really easy to spend time with people.”

Tilney grew up in Blairstown, then moved to big cities such as Cambridge, New York City and Barcelona. But a few years ago, she decided to come back.

“I think it [Blairstown] has a lot to offer…but a lot of the resources that used to be here are no longer here… What this town needs, is to have a healthy and vibrant looking downtown, one where the shops are filled, people can stay in business, where a young person or an old person can maybe go get food or walk around.”

Preserving small towns is a popular concept these days as older Americans look for windows into the past— their hometowns growing up. The BEC seeks to preserve, but Tilney says that’s not their only mission.

“We’re more focused on looking at the resources we have and the buildings we have available, using them to their best ability and taking care of them, it’s less focused on a sense of nostalgia because in my mind nostalgia isn’t always an accurate representation of how things actually were.”

She continued, “I think it is important to not stay married to an idea of how things were and look at the current conditions of what the town is asking for…it’s not just about preserving something for the sake of preservation.”