2018: Year of the ‘ice capades’

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I seem to be preoccupied with ice this year.

This may have something to do with the fact that in just five short months my daughter is getting married on a slab of ice, aka Matanuska Glacier, in Alaska. I’m busy making sure all of the family members attending are equipped with ice cleats and hiking poles, and figuring out how to play “Canon in D” on my flute without slip-sliding away.

But beyond my own personal obsession with ice, I’ve been fascinated with an ice story happening in my old neck of the woods — Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, where I got my first full-time reporter job in 1979. The town is building its first-ever ice castle to coincide with the Polar Fest to be staged Feb. 8-19. It’s the back story of how this all happened that’s interesting.

Detroit Lake, after which the town is named, was an epicenter for ice harvesting decades ago when cutting blocks of ice from lakes was still a thing. Last fall Detroit Lakes cut a deal with St. Paul to provide 24,000 blocks of ice — each 2 feet by 4 feet and weighing 500 pounds — so the metropolis to the south could build a big fancy ice palace that the Twin Cities could show off while hosting the Super Bowl.

Long story short, St. Paul couldn’t get its act together. There wasn’t enough community or financial support for this Taj Mahal of ice castles, so the project was scuttled in lieu of a much, much smaller ice castle, leaving Detroit Lakes on thin ice, so to speak. Not to be defeated, Detroit Lakes’ Ice Harvest Committee was determined to build its own ice castle and the town rallied around the idea.

The Detroit Lakes Tribune wrote an editorial lauding the committee “for taking lemons and turning them into frozen lemonade.

“When times got tough and things did not go as planned, they rolled up their sleeves and essentially said, ‘Oh, we’re doing this.’”

I’ve been watching the ice castle construction on Youtube and Facebook, and it’s pretty impressive. An interesting side note here is that Minnesota Vikings player Adam Thielen is from Detroit Lakes, and his grandfather was an ice harvester.

The media has marveled at Detroit Lakes’ moxie. A report from the Fargo Forum, the biggest daily newspaper in that area, noted “the committee could have shrugged their shoulders and called it quits — ‘but that’s not how we roll here in Detroit Lakes,’ Ice Harvest Committee member Amy Stearns told the Forum. ‘We don’t just give up. … We get stuff done.’”

The Tribune editorial rightly pointed out that “what started out as a disappointment has such potential to accidentally become an incredible opportunity for Detroit Lakes.”

After all, ice can be a big tourist attraction. My daughter and her fiancé just visited the Aurora Ice Museum at Chena Hot Springs in Alaska. It’s the world’s largest year-round ice environment, created from more than 1,000 tons of ice. It’s open year-round, offering guests a cool 25-degree temperature. Parkas are available free of charge to use during the tour. The place is full of stunning ice sculptures and martinis are served in glasses made of ice.

So there you have it. Ice, whether shaped into a sculpture, castle or museum, is a big deal, worth traveling far and wide to see. Who knew my daughter and future son-in-law were on the cutting edge when they made their wedding plans?

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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