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A Polar-Rific Weekend

SPECTATORS ALONG THE SHORE OF LITTLE DETROIT LAKE enjoyed the warmth of bonfires as they watched the Polar Fest fireworks Saturday night.1 / 5
JARRED OHM-MEYER, 4, PULLS HIS SISTERS Kelsey, 3, and Tara, 6, along the ice of Little Detroit Lake during the ULTRA Vintage Snowmobile Show Saturday afternoon. The three siblings are from Audubon.2 / 5
JACI STOFFERAHN celebrates taking the Plunge.3 / 5
MAGGIE KVAALE AND KIM EBERHARD FROM ZORBAZ take the Polar Fest Plunge Saturday afternoon.4 / 5
AFTON BARTZ, 4, of Bismarck, N.D., munches on a hot dog in the Detroit Lakes Pavilion Saturday afternoon.5 / 5


That was the word of the day Saturday, as warm, sunny weather made for one of the most successful Polar Fests in recent Detroit Lakes history.

Snowmobiles for the vintage show and ride were buzzing around the lake.

Fishing reels buzzed as they released line into the popped holes of the youth fishing derby.

Chainsaws and ice augers buzzed with power as ice was cut, chipped and pulled out of the lake in preparation for the polar plunge.

The pavilion was buzzing with a swirl of activity as kids jumped in inflated games and the Jaycees served up food and drink.

Members of the volunteer Polar Fest committee agree the phenomenal turnout for the weekend festivities was record-breaking.

"This is the most teams we've ever had for this," said Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center Program Brent Wolf, speaking of the Ice Tee Golf Tournament held Friday afternoon across from Zorbaz.

"Five years ago we started out with only five teams, and we just keep growing every year," said Wolf.

Seventeen teams trudged across the lake, which had been cleared and designed to resemble an 18-hole frozen golf course.

"We've got fun berms of snow instead of sand traps and water," said Wolf. "It's just taking advantage of the weather we live in -- if you can't beat it, join it."

Money raised for the event went to children's programming at the DLCCC.

Tchider Financial, Bremer Bank and Lakeridge Dental teams tied for first place.

The Freeze Your Buns 5-K race featured buns that were only slightly chilled, as a record number of runners participated in that event -- 138 of them.

Wesley Bakken buzzed through those 3.1 miles in only 17 minutes and 52 seconds, winning the race.

The Youth Fishing Derby saw around 75 local children vying for the big pan catch, which were a bit hard to come by, according to Marty Kumpula of the DL chapter of Minnesota Darkhouse & Angling Association, the group that put on the derby.

"There was a lot of activity out on the ice with snowmobiles driving around and everything, but the kids still caught perch and sunnies -- no croppies, though," said Kumpula, adding that they gave away a couple of bikes during a drawing and trophies to the biggest catch in a boys' and girls' division.

Not too far away from the derby, Polar Fest visitors were getting their first experience with kicksledding.

"They're a Scandinavian mode of transportation and now recreation," said Vicki Chepulis of Wadena's Green Island and provider of the kicksleds.

New to Polar Fest, the old fashioned looking sleds are designed to travel cross-country in snowy conditions.

With one foot planted firmly on one ski, the other foot pushes and kicks to gain momentum and speed.

There was a lot of huffing and puffing at the kicksled demos, as participants felt the physical benefits of the sport.

"Although it's been around for 150 years, it's kind of a new sport that's developing in Europe," said Chepulis. "Hopefully we can introduce it a little bit to northern Minnesota, too."

Amy Degerstrom of the Becker County Historical Society stood near the Polar Fest Plunge location as big blocks of ice were plucked from the lake.

Her stories of days gone by gave perspective to what those big ice blocks once meant to Detroit Lakes.

"It was the second largest industry in Becker County," said Degerstrom. "They took out 150 thousand tons of ice off Lake Detroit, or about 40 to 60 acres worth, at the turn of the century."

Standing by a scoring saw, corking rod, cracking bar, needle bar and pickaroo, Degerstrom explained to on-lookers exactly how early ice harvesters worked the commercial operation, set up in Detroit Lakes in 1878.

"Our ice was traveling across the whole western part of the country," said Degerstrom. "It was used primarily for the railroad to keep the cars cold so if you needed to transport produce, meat, cheese or milk from place to place, there was no refrigerated cars, so the ice was used to keep those cars cold."

One place that wasn't cold Saturday was the Pavilion, which hundreds of people streamed in and out of throughout much of the day, as Party at the Pavilion housed kids games, food and a big screen with a live feed to the Polar Fest Plunge.

Money raised at the party went to the Boys and Girls Club of Detroit Lakes.

Polar Fest also offered a little adult entertainment as well, with Tailgating on the Lake and a Polaritaville Dance at Zorbaz later that evening.

As the sun went down on the spectacular, sunny 37-degree day, celebration took to the sky with a Winter Fireworks Display.

"It was spectacular," said Polar Fest Committee Member Amy Stearns. "The beach was just packed full of people watching it and cheering -- it was gorgeous."

Sunday was the wrap-up of the 10-day event, with the Secrets of Pairings Wine Tasting at the Lodge on Lake Detroit, as well as an Ann Reed concert, "The Music of Dorothy Fields," performed at the Holmes Theatre.

"It was a lovely concert," said Stearns. "This is about old Broadway songs written by Dorothy Fields, who was the first Broadway producer in the U.S."

Stearns said overall, Polar Fest probably saw roughly 3,000 participants this year in addition to the countless people who came out to the bars and restaurants to check out the action.

She said Polar Fest was also deemed a success in terms of bringing people into the city from all over the region, specifically events like the Polar Fest Plunge.

For a story and photos on that, see Page C1.

Or to catch a video on the weekend's Polar Fest events, log on to and click on the Polar Fest story.