Hundreds brave snow to attend Ice Time Festival

Published 4:16 pm Sunday, February 2, 2014

Don Weber carves the arches on his “Tree of Love” ice sculpture during the carve-off competition in Beckwith Park. He was one of six carvers vying for the $400 grand prize. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Don Weber carves the arches on his “Tree of Love” ice sculpture during the carve-off competition in Beckwith Park. He was one of six carvers vying for the $400 grand prize. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

After hearing he had won $400 for his field eagle ice carving, 25-year-old Josh Niven simply shrugged his soldiers while chiseling away at the squirrel-shaped sculpture he had been working on for the past half-hour.

“It was a surprise to me,” Niven said, while picking away at the errant chunks of ice still left on his sculpture. “Today, I’m just finding my niche, I guess.”

Niven, a Buchanan resident, had beaten out five other ice carvers to win first place at the carve-off competition in Beckwith Park, the centerpiece of the 18th annual Dowagiac Ice Time Festival, which took place Saturday downtown.

In addition to winning the carve-off, Niven was responsible for crafting a number of frozen art pieces around the Front Street area, including a replica of the old Round Oak Stove logo located in front of the Dowagiac Area History Museum.

He accomplished all of this in spite of the fact that he was working at his job in South Bend until late Friday night, arriving  at 4:30 a.m. to begin prepping for the day’s activities.

“No sleep helps,” Niven joked.

The carve-off was but one of several events that drew in visitors to Front Street Saturday. Despite the heavy snowfall, hundreds of people came out to participate in the festival.

Carvers from around the area transformed the 50 blocks that were shipped to the city late Friday night into a variety of different ice statues, ranging from a firewood stove outside the Wood Fire to a wide-mouth bass outside the Wounded Minnow Saloon.

However, it was during the timed competition in Beckwith Park where the creativity of the craftsmen was put to the test.

“It could have been colder,” said Mike Evans, one of the carvers who entered this year’s carve-off. “But you always have to be prepared for the weather.”

Evans took home the $300 second-place prize for his carving, after coming in first place the previous two festivals. Alfredo Arroyo won $200 for coming in third.

Judging the carvings were Marc Dombrosky with Southwestern Michigan College and Sue Watson with the City of Dowagiac.

The ice carvers were not the only men and women competing for glory Saturday. Caruso’s held its annual ice cream eating contest, in which contestants from three age brackets race to see who can finish four scoops of ice first, without using their hands.

The winners were Owen Meiring in the child’s bracket, Austin Burns in the teen’s and Ryan Tidey in the adult’s.

Meanwhile, five area restaurants faced off in the annual chili crawl event, to see which eatery could produce the best bowl of chili. This year, Zeke’s, The Wood Fire, Beeson Street Bar and Grill, Front Street Crossing and the Wounded Minnow Saloon entered the competition, with visitor’s voting on which place they felt served the best dish. The winner will be announced later this week.

A number of other activities were held throughout the morning and afternoon, such as a virtual gold tournament at Benny’s Barbershop or the outdoor game corner on Commercial Street. Some visitors, though, simply wanted to take in the sights and enjoy a nice, relaxing day with their friends and family.

While the early morning snowfall deterred some from venturing outdoors when the festival kicked off at 8 a.m., by afternoon the streets were bustling with activity, said Kris Lamphere, the organizer for this year’s event.

“I’m pleased overall with the turnout,” she said. “Our carvers and volunteers plowed through some heavy snow today, but it was overall a fun day.”