Hunter Ice Festival taking shape

Published 7:28 am Monday, December 2, 2013

The planning committee for the Hunter Ice Festival is well into their yearly duties as they plan the 10th annual event. Leader File Photo

The planning committee for the Hunter Ice Festival is well into their yearly duties as they plan the 10th annual event. Leader File Photo

Most festival organizers hope for sunny skies and warm temperatures but that certainly isn’t the case when it comes to the Hunter Ice Festival.

Marking its 10th year, the event that relies on Mother Nature to provide cold weather will return to downtown Jan. 17-19. Organizers with Niles Main Street and a group of dedicated volunteers are hard at work to make the milestone year the most special one yet for the event that showcases Niles history.

“We have capitalized on being able to tell a local story,” Lisa Croteau,

program manager for Niles DDA Main Street, said during a recent planning meeting. “It is a world-class festival.”

For those who aren’t familiar, the festival pays tribute to the historic Hunter Brothers Ice and Ice Cream Company that was renowned for creating some of the best ice cream in the early 1900s and also cutting ice blocks out of Barron Lake that were shipped across the country.

Garnering attention on a national level including being featured on the Food Network, the festival showcases more than 100 ice sculptures throughout downtown, features a variety of ice sculpting exhibitions that turn more than 25 tons of ice into art, offers a variety of activities for children and much more. Visitors will also have the opportunity to fill their bellies with more than 150 gallons of a secret-recipe reproduction of the famous Hunter Ice Cream

Organizers insist the community can enjoy world-class ice carvings and be a part of the process.

“They aren’t ice carvers,” Croteau said. “They are master artists.”

In addition to the interactive ice park that has included attractions such as ping pong and air hockey tables made out of ice, one of the biggest attractions is the “ice fights.” These are team events where a group of carvers do freestyle designs in a competition.

“It’s wild. It’s crazy. It’s flashing lights and loud music,” Croteau said. “It is so much fun.”

Many downtown businesses will offer free hot refreshments in their “warming stations.”

Niles Main Street has a clear mission statement saying that its purpose “is to enhance our community identity and heritage, foster a center of activity and ensure economic stability for the heart of downtown Niles through broad based community support.”

A recent state study showed that the annual event injects more than $3 million dollars into the economy each year.

“It is phenomenal the number of people on the sidewalks in downtown in the middle of January,” said Lucy McCauslin, one of the original volunteers.

The complete schedule is still being finalized. Friday’s highlight will be setting up the more than 100 pre-carved ice sculptures throughout downtown and at sponsor businesses. Saturday will feature a 5K, live carving and the ice fights. Sunday’s highlight will be a “chili crawl” hosted by downtown restaurants and other businesses.

If the temperatures stay cool, the ice carvings could last well beyond the weekend. And it isn’t like cold weather does much to deter visitors.

“The town has been filled in 3-degree weather, with people wandering the streets, eating ice cream,” Croteau said. “It is a blast.”