Niles’ Hunter Ice Festival to take place Jan. 18 to 20

NILES — Each winter season, the Hunter Ice Festival has enchanted people who visit downtown Niles with dozens of ice sculptures, family activities and creamy Hunter ice cream. 

This year, that legacy will continue.

The 15th annual Hunter Ice Festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 18 and all day Jan. 19 and 20 in Niles’ downtown area. The annual event is free and open to the public. More than 100 intricately carved sculptures made from a block of ice will be placed around the downtown for people to view. Warming stations where people can enjoy hot chocolate and coffee will be available at local businesses and organizations. Festival favorites like the Fire and Ice ceremony and the Chili Crawl will return.

Local businesses sponsor the event hosted by the Niles DDA Main Street. This year, Lisa Croteau, the director for the Niles DDA Main Street, said she expects between 15,000 and 20,000 people to visit Niles for the festival throughout the week.

“It’s something that we have always tried to concentrate on having it be a very quality festival with the best carvers that we could get,” Croteau said. “We have a really great crew that does an amazing job of turning our town into an artistic winter wonderland, with a mix of fun.”

NICA National Champions Aaric Kendall along with carvers Dean DeMarais and Ed Hutchinson and Niles’ Danny Bloss will help to transform the 32 tons of ice used for the festival into frozen masterpieces. 

This year, ice carvers will create some of their sculptures in honor of the Smithsonian Water/Ways exhibit, which is visiting Niles from Jan. 5 to Feb. 16. The Niles District Library, where the exhibition will take place, will also serve as a warming center on Saturday, Jan. 19.

“Lord only knows what they will come up with, but I think it will be fun,” Croteau said. “They always do a really wonderful job for us.”

A number of interactive sculptures that allow people to sit on or play games with the ice will also return. If the weather is cold enough, Croteau said the sculptors plan to create an ice-sledding luge in Riverfront Park as a new element this year.

“I think that would be fun for kids and grown-ups alike,” Croteau said. 

While the past two years of the festival have seen unseasonably warm temperatures, Croteau said a long-range forecast is predicting colder temperatures that will range from the teens to 30s. No matter the weather, though, Croteau said she expects those that visit to have a good time.

“People come and have fun anyway,” Croteau said. “[The sculptures] just last longer [if it’s cold] and more fun can be had if the sculptures hang around a bit longer.”

Croteau thanked the businesses and community for helping the festival to reach a milestone this year.

“It seems like we started this thing yesterday. It’s been an amazing festival for the community,” Croteau said. “It’s been an amazing festival for the businesses downtown. Our community has embraced it, not just Niles but the greater Michiana community.”

The Hunter Ice Festival is rooted in Niles history. Henry and Lemont Hunter moved to Niles in 1898 and purchased land around Barron Lake. From the lake, they extracted and sold ice. In 1914, they were known for selling Hunter Ice Cream. The Hunter Foundation was the remaining legacy of the Hunter brothers and their business. The foundation still exists today and helps to support a variety of efforts. 

Croteau said sponsorships are still available for businesses looking to contribute. To find out more, people can call Croteau at (269) 687-4332. A Facebook page for the Hunter Ice Festival is also available for people to learn more. A schedule of events will be published on the Niles Main Street website in upcoming days.

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