PEPPERELL -- There may still be snow on the ground, but the Pepperell Fourth of July Committee has already begun fundraising for the annual parade and fireworks display.
"We have six months to raise $30,000," said Chairwoman Carol Gates.
This weekend, the committee is beginning the ticket sale for the town's fourth annual Poopapalooza. And, yes, it is exactly what it sounds like.
The event will be taking place on May 18, and tickets will be sold right up until the day before. During the committee's annual carnival, the town field is fenced off and divided into a grid of 1,600 squares measuring two feet by two feet. Meanwhile, a replica of the field is drawn up on a large poster board.
On May 17 at 9 a.m., tickets are drawn and placed at random in the squares around the board. The square on which a person's ticket is placed designates their spot on the field.
"We have people coming down at 8:55 a.m. waiting to try to find their spot," said Gates.
The next day, a borrowed cow is released into the field, under the gazes of the spectators, to wander around until the time comes for her to do her business.
"If the cow poops on your square, you win," said Gates.
Last year, the cow took 45 minutes, and anticipation was high.
"She was all over the place," said Gates.
Tickets are $5 apiece, but residents can buy as many as they want to improve their chances. The committee sold 1,400 squares last year.
The winner takes
The tradition may sound unusual, but such events are surprisingly common, said Gates. She had first heard of the game four years ago after reading about Ashby's Llamapalooza.
"I did some research on it and found out that a lot of people do it," said Gates.
Since it first began, the event has grown to be a community staple.
"More and more people are getting wind of it," said Gates.
And that's not all the committee is planning. The first scheduled event will be a golf tournament on May 4, followed by the carnival, which runs from May 15-19.
On June 15, residents are asked to take a flying leap during their "Jump for the Fourth" event at Pepperell Skydiving. People who are interested in skydiving can get 20 sponsors to pledge $20 each. It doesn't cost the jumper anything.
"For anybody who ever wanted to try skydiving, this is a great way to do it," said Gates.
The committee has also been selling $5 tickets year round for a 50/50 raffle. The winner is announced on the fireworks field on July 6.
Although it might seem early to begin planning for the summer, six months is a short time to raise the necessary funds to keep Pepperell's July 4 traditions going, especially with rising costs associated with planning both the parade and the fireworks display.
Last year, said Gates, the committee was getting nervous as the date for the events approached and they still hadn't reached their mark. Luckily, 1A Auto stepped in with a generous donation to fund the remainder of the cost. In fact, they had donated enough for rollover, and the committee was able to replace the old, tattered flags along Main Street.
Still, it was a close call.
"We always sit down and talk about what's the budget that we're aiming for. There's no intention of trying to make the parade smaller or canceling the fireworks, but it's always something that lingers in the back of our minds as a possibility of what we might have to do," said Gates. "Not one of us wants to be on the committee when we have to make that call."
Part of the issue, said Gates, is that not everybody might realize that the events are not funded by the town. The parade has always been funded by the committee, but in 2009, the town did not pass appropriation for the fireworks. The committee met and, not wanting the tradition to fall by the wayside, decided to take over the cost of the event.
But by the time July 4 rolls around, the committee's efforts have all been worth it.
By 6 a.m. that morning, people are already starting to set up chairs and blankets along Main Street to get the best view of the parade. Gates has gotten emails from people who have traveled from all over the place to be able to attend the event. One Florida family who had previously lived in Pepperell planned their vacation around being able to participate in the festivities.
"I tell all of our new members, you know you've pulled off the event without a hitch when at the end of the night, when we're all sitting together, you can hear the people screaming behind you," said Gates. "If you don't get goose bumps, you shouldn't be on the committee."