Thousands brave frigid temps for first Hunter Ice Festival in Niles

Published 12:58 pm Monday, January 17, 2005

By By MIKELL FREY / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Feet on the street.
That's what the Niles DDA Main Street Promotions Committee hoped to get in downtown Niles with the premiere sanctioned event of their Hunter Ice Festival.
Now, at the culmination of the ice bash weekend, they can safely say they got their wish.
With more than an estimated 5,000 people, bumper to bumper traffic and an incredible crowd turnover rate, Croteau is more than pleased with the overall turnout.
The event launched off with a bang Friday at 5 p.m., when 100 450-pound blocks of ice, purchased from City's Pure Ice in LaPorte, Ind, were scattered around downtown with the help of coordinating chef and carver Andrew Thistlethwaite of Elkhart, Ind., promotions committe member Jack Flock of Niles and carver Scott Erwin of South Bend, Ind.
Sixteen ice carvers, from areas of Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, arrived in Niles Friday afternoon ready to start work on carving more than 80 ice sculptures over the duration of the weekend.
Through the course of their three-day stay, carved musicians, dancers and other unspeakably beautiful ice designs slowly, but surely, began to morph downtown Niles into the theme of the weekend: The Arts.
Brought together by Thistlethwaite, the majority of the area carvers present at the event are members of the American Culinary Foundation, and work full-time as chefs during the week. Thistlethwaite, who was approached by mayor Mike McCauslin in November concerning the Hunter Ice Festival, said that bringing the group together was simply a matter of picking up the phone and calling buddies he carves with all the time.
Thistlewaite's schedule was one of the busiest of the weekend. He came out Friday at 5 p.m., and after unloading ice, began carving until 6 a.m. Saturday. After breakfast, he started up again with a five-piece jazz band in the city ampitheatre among other projects, finishing around 8:30 p.m. On Sunday, he was one of nine carvers that took part in Nile's first National Ice Carving Association Sanctioned Timed Competition from 1-4 p.m.
Of Thistlethwaite's efforts, Croteau said, "He's amazing. We could not have done this with out him. He is wonderful, professional and a delight to work with. I cannot sing his praises enough."
Other features at the event included period ice cream, a Hunter Brothers History Exhibit located at the Niles District Library, a photo contest for visitors to the event and a variety of other things. For kids, the ice bash offered face painting, balloon animals, origami crafts and the First Annual Clothesline Art Show.
Sales from the Hunter period ice cream, which was made specially by the Bonnie Doon Ice Cream business of Elkhart with a recipe from Penn State University, came to a total of over $1,000 and proved to be a big hit with the crowd thanks to its high content of butter fat. The ice cream was modeled after a 1910 recipe, and closely resembled the product the Hunter Brothers Ice and Ice Cream Company produced in the early 1900s.
The group serving, which included Todd Waikevainen, Tony Smith and Pat Eycleshymer of Niles, sold out of the 16 three-gallon containers early Sunday.
Adult services librarian Conrad Rader, who coordinated the history exhibit at the library, and ran around busily answering questions from curious visitors throughout the weekend, was happy to see the amount of traffic come his way despite the library's distance from the main ice fest activities.
Rader put together a hugely impressive display, which included pictures of Henry and Lemont Hunter, a replica of the Hunter Brothers Ice House and an ice box refrigerator, circa 1902. In addition, a video from the Northeast Historic Film company entitled "The Ice Harvesting Sampler," helped educate the crowd on the actual practice of ice harvesting back when the Hunter brothers were in business on Barron Lake.
In the following week, as the the wonderful mania of the weekend begins to die down, the Niles DDA Main Street Promotions Committee plan to hold a wrap-up meeting in order to discuss the success of the event and changes for next year.
For Croteau, calling this first-ever ice fest a success was kind of an understatement for the weekend event in Niles.
The $20,000-communtity celebration managed to grab 28 sponsors, and the attention of people throughout at least three states.
Next year those numbers are sure to grow.