Ice festival cometh

Published 11:16 am Tuesday, December 28, 2004

By By AUSTIN NEILSON / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Winter has always been a treacherous time in Niles. Snow is a common sight along the streets.
Yet, on the weekend of Jan. 15 and 16, blocks of ice will adorn the sidewalks of downtown Niles during the inaugural Hunter Ice Festival.
The festival is intended as a tribute to the Hunter family, who lived in the Niles area in the early 1900s, owning an ice house and ice cream business on Barron Lake, said Lisa Croteau, Niles Downtown Development Authority, Main Street program manager.
In the late 1920s, the business was lost in a fire and soon faded into history.
Croteau hopes to change that by the creation of the ice festival, a first for the Niles community.
The idea of an ice festival originated with Mayor Mike McCauslin, whose friend Andrew Thistlethwaite (a chef at Elcona Country Club in Elkhart) is involved with ice sculpting.
The festival will involve at least ten sculptors from all over the midwest. Some have created pieces for celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Vice President Dick Cheney.
The pieces will be created and put on display around downtown and nearby Riverfront Park.
The corners of Fifth and Main streets, along with Fifth and Wayne streets, will be only a few of the spots where sculptures will be able to be viewed.
Sites must be able to have access to electricity, which is needed for the chainsaws used to carve the sculptures.
In addition to the ice sculptures, carriage rides and children's crafts will compliment festivities.
Croteau said an ice cream stand, made completely of ice, is also in the works. The stand would sell ice cream made from a recipe similar to the one used by the Hunter family at the turn of the 20th Century. Since the ice house was lost to fire, organizers are working with historians from Penn State University to find ice cream recipes from that time period. Officials at Southwestern Michigan College are also helping find further information about the Hunter business and family themselves.
Croteau also hopes to draw attention for the festival from the National Ice Carving Association. If the Hunter Ice Festival is able to become "officially sanctioned" by the organization, it would be the only nationally sanctioned ice carving event in America at the time. The status would also add to the festival's competitions, in which monetary prizes will be awarded in categories such as "best in show" and "people's favorite," along with a "timed sculpture competition."
Sponsors are also being sought for the event and sculptures themselves. For as little as $200, one could be recognized as a sponsor for a particular piece. All sponsors will receive labeled, wooden ice cream scoops in appreciation of their sponsorship.
Proceeds will go to pay for the festival with any extra money going back to the Niles DDA general fund, which is used for other projects.
Events will take place regardless of the weather.
She hopes the Hunter Ice Festival will become an annual tradition in Niles.
as similar ice festivals have done in Dowagiac, Watervliet and St. Joseph. Yet, the purpose of the festivities goes back to the promotion of downtown revitalization.
For the most part, the festival is intended to be an event that brings excitement to Niles in the wintry months. Something fun and informative to do after the December holidays.