Snowmobile driver Paul Doucette, Bennington’s chief of police, drops off a young man who was participating in the Woodford SnoBusters Very Special
Snowmobile driver Paul Doucette, Bennington’s chief of police, drops off a young man who was participating in the Woodford SnoBusters Very Special People Ride Saturday. Bennington Police Department is one of several area law enforcement agencies that participate in the Southern Vermont Snowmobile Task Force and assist with the popular Very Special People Ride. (Michelle Karas)

WOODFORD -- There seems to be a direct correlation between riding on a snowmobile and smiling.

More than 60 children and adults with special needs proved that theory on Saturday during the Woodford SnoBusters Annual Very Special People Ride.

The snowmobiling club welcomed visitors to the McKenna farm in Woodford for its yearly quest to provide smiles and snowmobile rides to those with special needs. After a snowmobile ride with a club member or law enforcement officer on a one-mile loop into a winter wonderland of Woodford wilderness, the very special people and their parents or caregivers were invited indoors to warm up and enjoy a hot dog lunch and refreshments. Each participant also walked away with a memento from the day -- a warm winter hat embroidered with the event name.

A total of about 120 people -- including riders, caregivers and volunteers -- visited the farm Saturday during the noon to 3 p.m. event, according to Jeanne McKenna, who with her husband Gene McKenna organized the event. The couple are from Bennington but recently purchased the family farm in Woodford.

"It's the most people in recent years," said McKenna.

The Woodford SnoBusters, a group of roughly 2,000 snowmobiling enthusiasts that started in 1984, doesn't profit from the event in any way, other than the collection of smiles and happy memories they help to generate.

"It's just the club giving back to the community," McKenna said.

Ryan Sweet, 29, of Bennington, was among the riders who enjoyed several snowmobile rides on the property Saturday.

"I like to go fast!" he exclaimed after a snowmobile ride with Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette. Sweet added, "He's an awesome driver," of Doucette.

Sweet estimated he'd taken at least six snowmobile rides throughout the afternoon. He said the rides were "wicked fun!"

Doucette said the reactions of the riders, who ranged from 6-year-olds through adults, were priceless.

Some laughed the entire ride or screamed with glee. Many, like Sweet, asked to go "Faster! Faster!"

"We like to try to give back," said Doucette. "Plus, this is an awful lot of fun for us. For me, it's hearing the laughter from the very special people when they're on the back of the snowmobile. It just makes you feel good."

As of about 2 p.m. on Saturday, Doucette said he'd given about 28 miles in rides on just one sled.

"It was -12 degrees when we got here, but it turned into a fantastic day," Doucette said of weather that warmed up to the mid-20-degree range under sunny blue skies in the afternoon.

Linda and John Dovitski of Woodford were among the club members providing rides for kids Saturday.

Ryan Sweet of Bennington gives Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette a hug after getting a ride on Doucette’s snowmobile at the Woodford SnoBusters
Ryan Sweet of Bennington gives Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette a hug after getting a ride on Doucette's snowmobile at the Woodford SnoBusters Very Special People Ride Saturday. More than 60 riders with special needs participated in the yearly event put on by the snowmobile club. (Michelle Karas)
They had a covered sled hooked up behind their snowmobile that could show the riders a lower -- and covered -- vantage point through the trails.

"It's just a lot of fun," said John Dovitski.

Jeanne McKenna said those who volunteer at the event get as much out of it as the participants. "We all know how much the participants love the event, but I think many of the volunteers like it as much. The entire event is run by volunteers. Some have been volunteering since it started almost 30 years ago and new people volunteer each year."

McKenna said her husband spent days working on the trail, shoveling snow from the sides into the trail to help fill holes and get it ready for the event.

Two children get a ride in a sled towed behind a snowmobile at the Woodford SnoBusters Very Special People Ride Saturday. More than 60 riders with special
Two children get a ride in a sled towed behind a snowmobile at the Woodford SnoBusters Very Special People Ride Saturday. More than 60 riders with special needs participated in the yearly event put on by the snowmobile club. (Woodford SnoBusters)

The volunteers come not only from the local area but also from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. One father and son team drives five hours from New Jersey, she said.

"Without all their help there would not be an event," McKenna said.

Assisting at the Very Special People Ride were Bennington Police Department, Wilmington Police Department, Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, Bennington Rescue Squad, Vermont State Police and the Bennington County Sheriff's Department.

Those agencies as well as Winhall Police & Rescue participate in the Southern Vermont Snowmobile Task Force which patrols forest land during the winter snowmobiling season, enforces safety and ensures that snowmobile drivers have current insurance.

Joseph Szarejko, chief of the Wilmington Police Department and also a snowmobile task force member, was at Saturday's event helping to direct both snowmobile and vehicle traffic.

"We're just here to help," said Szarejko. "The McKennas and the Woodford SnoBusters make this a successful event."

Szarejko said the Southern Vermont Snowmobile Task Force assists at the Very Special People Ride every year.

"You see some of the same faces year-in and year-out," he said.

Seeing the smiles on those faces makes it fun and is a nice break from the day-to-day tasks of the officers.

Doucette said the task force did patrols in the Woodford State Forest from early Saturday morning until about noon and then came to the SnoBusters event to assist with giving rides and directing traffic.

Rep. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington, said she has worked for the last 15 years to make sure the Southern Vermont Snowmobile Task Force receives its appropriation to fund the important work they do patrolling the forests on snowmobile.

Morrissey said she has made it to nearly every one of the SnoBusters Very Special People Rides through the years.

"I tell the riders that their smiles are my sunshine," she said.

To learn more about the Woodford SnoBusters, visit www.snobusters.com.

Send story ideas to Michelle Karas at mkaras@benningtonbanner.com. Follow Karas on Twitter @bannereditor.