Easter is many things, and for A Carousel for Missoula the holiday is truly the start of the riding season.
“Once our panels come down and the doors are open, it really is carousel season,” said Theresa Cox, carousel executive director.
On Sunday two of the carousel’s 10 giant garage doors were open for the first time since last fall, and on Tuesday the remaining 8 insulated panels that keep the beautiful facility warm during the winter will come down so all of the doors can be open as the weather allows.
“It is such a beautiful day to get out and do stuff – to go for walks and for rides,” said Lacey Harrington, who came to the carousel with her husband, Zeb, 2-year-old daughter, Abigail, and their extended family after an Easter brunch.
Dressed in coordinating pink and white dresses, Harrington decided it was the perfect day for her daughter’s first ride on the hand-carved ponies.
The little girl’s big blue eyes fluttered with delight and a giant smile filled her face when the music began and the ponies took off.
As the mother and daughter spun around and around, Zeb captured the day’s joy with his camera and then laughed when he heard his daughter cry “more, more,” when the ride came to an end.
“I think this is just a great thing for the community –something beautiful for everyone to enjoy and for people from out of town to see,” said Matt Cavanaugh who came to the carousel with his wife, Jenessa, and their young children.
“We love it.”
Although the carousel is open all year long, it is busiest during the spring and summer months, when the weather beckons walks along the Clark Fork River and when the many downtown markets and other outdoor events get under way in Missoula.
Thanks to a grant from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, when the annual Carousel Sunday Market and Festival opens in June, 10 agricultural vendors will get free spaces, Cox said.
In exchange for the free place in which to sell their produce, the vendors will provide $20 worth of food that will be distributed to Mountain Home Montana and the Watson Children’s Shelter.
“This is the kind of thing we love to do because everyone wins,” said Jess Coulter, a carousel team member. “It’s easier for many vendors to pay with vegetables than cash,” and the Sunday market is strengthened by having additional, reliable agricultural vendors – and two direct service agencies in Missoula benefit.
“We have all sorts of really cool stuff going on,”Cox said.
To help people stay up to date with upcoming events and happenings, the carousel has a new Facebook page, a Twitter account and a blog. “While the ponies are staying put in their own century, the rest of us at the carousel are jumping into the 21st century,” Cox said.
However, should the greater public feel the need for more nostalgia, anyone who is interested in learning how to carve the carousel animals or to just see the process unfold, is welcome to come to the carousel on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. when the volunteer carvers gather.
Although no new ponies will be added to the herd, the carvers toil away on custom ordered ponies, repair some of the carousel ponies, and are currently making a bison for a carousel in Albany, Ore.
“We turn 18 on May 27,”Cox said. “Things are going well and we remain incredibly grateful for all the support we get from the community.
“We try to keep the carousel safe and clean, and as inexpensive as we can make it.”
On Sunday, it was obvious all those objectives – and more –were met.
“This is a great family thing and a great thing for kids,” said Marissa Garrett, who came to the carousel with her husband, Norm and their 2-year-old daughter, Harper.
“I worked here in high school, it was my first job back in the day,” Jenessa Cavanaugh said. “It’s one of those few great places that is actually family friendly.”