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Festival of the Islands showcases small town life

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The Champlain Islands will celebrate their brand of small town life next weekend. Vermont's annual Festival of the Islands will be held from July 27-29 in the five towns of Grand Isle County.

Irene Clarke grew up on Long Island and now owns a business in Alburgh. She's organizing the festival, and says the event presents the best of the islands, including concerts, flea markets, retail events, art exhibits, farm stands and yard sales. Email Irene for a map of the Festival:

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Todd Moe
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Irene Clarke says when she moved to Vermont, what she cherished most were the many small towns in the Champlain Islands. She said, “Unfortunately, because of the location, it keeps it remote and beautiful and rare, but it also is difficult to do business her because not enough people come here.”

With this problem in mind, Clarke created a couple annual events. One of these is the Festival of the Islands. “At that point, what happens is everybody, there are five towns in Grand Isle County, and all the towns have special events. We have concerts, we have wineries, we have tours. The farms are open, the animals are here. And in addition to that, the residents do yard sales and along with the yard sales, some of the non-profits have created flea markets and different types of things like that,” said Clarke. “So it’s great fun for people to travel through the islands, a distance of 20 to 30 miles in length, and they get to see everything and they also get to have fun at the sales.”

Clarke says that this ‘staycation’ is fun for local families as well as visitors to the islands. Residents of the small towns have the opportunity to shop and spend time with friends. Clarke said, “First of all, everyone has fun at yard sales. You find things that you never would find any place else and they’re generally very inexpensive.”

Clarke said that there are plenty of activities for children as well. There are ice cream stands and a petting paddock, and Clarke said, “There are lots of things to do where you can go to things for a little while that interest mom and pop, and then you can take the kids out of the car and let them run around a little bit and have a good time. So it’s really ideal.”

The businesses that want to be a part of the festival register with Clarke and donate $20. The festival is a not-for-profit organization, and Clarke uses the donations to buy tokens that signify that a business is involved. Clarke said, “For the past several years, I’ve used helium balloons, but believe it or not, there’s a shortage of helium and it’s quite costly. So in trying to keep the costs down, what I did this year is I bought nine-foot waving streamers, and they sparkle in the sun and they’ll wave around so it brings attention to the participants.”

Businesses will be given streamers for their contribution, and individuals can purchase them for their yard sales. At the end of the festival, whatever money is left over in the account is donated to Champlain Islanders Developing Essential Resources, Inc., or C.I.D.E.R., an organization that is located on the islands.

According to Clarke, the islands are a great spot to live. She says that she came up by accident the first time when she was looking for a camping space with a lot of shade. She said, “And we started in South Hero and kept driving north and north and north, and every time you come over a hill, there’s a new vista, and they’re all beautiful. Some of them show mountains and farms, some of them show the lake, some of them show, you know, idyllic little settings in the country. It’s just the most marvelous place.”

Clarke moved to the area and now lives there year-round. She said, “The other piece is that I’m concerned in terms of small towns because I was down in Long Island recently, and first of all it’s very congested, but in addition to that, what you have to choose from are box stores and strip malls. There’s no personality, there’s no individuality; the uniqueness of the place has been wiped clean. No matter where you go, you see the same things. And that’s what I hope to preserve.”

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