Ice festival organizers hoping for frigid temps

Published 11:45 am Tuesday, January 4, 2005

By By MIKELL FREY / Niles Daily Star
NILES - On the weekend of Jan. 15 and 16, visitors to Niles downtown will be treated to breathtaking carved ice, vanilla ice cream served from an ice hut and a history lesson dedicated to the Hunter Brothers Ice and Ice Cream Company of Niles, circa 1899 through 1924.
All that is weather permitting, of course.
The Hunter Ice Festival, first of its kind in the Niles area, promises to be a festive celebration that will bring in 10 to 12 carvers from all over the Midwest to carve three to five blocks each for audiences throughout the weekend.
These carvers, brought together by coordinating chef and a carver at the event, Andrew Thistlethwaite of Elkhart, Ind., will also compete in a National Ice Carving Association timed competition scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 16, from 1 to 4 p.m.
Other things at the festival will include period ice cream, circa 1910, which will be made by Bonnie Doon Ice Cream of Elkhart, using a formula from Penn State University and carriage rides through Riverfront Park on Saturday of the weekend.
The Niles District Library, with the help of adult service librarian Conrad Rader, will share the enriched history of the Hunter family and their ice harvesting business on Barron Lake with crowds wanting to briefly escape from the cold.
They have partnered with SMC to borrow some of the origianl artifacts from the Hunter Ice House, along with some historic pictures which will be displayed in the library building, the DDA Main Street office and throughout store front windows in downtown Niles.
There will also be an educational video on ice harvesting playing on loop in the lobby of the library and maps of the ice sculptures scattered throughout the town for all those interested.
"The library is going to serve as the information hub of the festival basically," Rader said.
The weekend will also boast a Downtown Winter Art Event hosted by the Niles Art Association and a Kid's Craft table at the DDA Main Street offices.
The DDA Main Street offices will be open to the public as another haven from the cold with hot chocolate and coffee for all its visitors, and downtown stores are encouraged to follow their lead by keeping special extended store hours and providing entertainment and refreshments for the event.
Event planning for the celebration is credited to the Niles DDA Main Street Promotions Committee, who have been thick in the works of the ice bash since the beginning of December. The group have done everything from ordering 450 pound ice blocks from City's Pure Ice in LaPorte, Ind., to pulling together sponsors, ordering 1,500 scoops of the period ice cream and researching the history of the Hunter family.
The DDA group think this first festival will do nothing but good for the Niles community, and plan to expand the event in years to come.
"We decided we should be the first, and be the benchmark of all other ice festivals in the area," Lisa Croteau, director of DDA, said. "Ice festivals are priceless. They bring people into the community at a time when people aren't around as much."
Gloria Cooper, chairman of DDA, chimed in by saying that many business owners believe, "If we get feet on the street, they will come back."
The celebration, which is estimated to cost around $12,000-$15,000 all together, will ideally be a self-supporting fundraiser event with a little something for everyone. Up to this point Croteau has managed to pull together 12 sponsors for a total of $5,100. Tyler Registration, the City of Niles, Coldwell Banker and The Hunter Foundation have all provided $1,000 for the cause, and Lakelan Hospital is providing a $500 competition piece.
"We'd love to get more sponsors," Croteau said.
Sponsorship costs can range from $200-$1,000, and will be rewarded with blocks of sculpted ice with the company name and logo displayed on the art.
With plans winding down and the nearing date of the ice bash, the DDA group have only one big concern. Some good old, cold weather.
"Give us a nice, cold permacloud please, thank you very much," Croteau said. "Under 32 would be really nice, with no rain and minimal sun."
For the sake of the ice fest, hopefully the temperatures will drop.