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It was downright 'Polar-riffic'!: Detroit Lakes’ Polar Fest wraps up with warm temps, big crowds

Polar Pete waits to high-five runners at the Freeze Your Buns 5K Run/Walk. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)1 / 13
An event judge points at a announcer. The group raised an impromptu $1,000 to persuade the judges and announcer to take the plunge. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)2 / 13
Two women take a break from the ice to grab a beverage at Lakeside. The Polar Plunge began around 1 p.m. on Saturday. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)3 / 13
A diver hangs out in between jumps. Men were in the water throughout all jumps to assist plungers. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)4 / 13
A man bursts from the water following his plunge. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)5 / 13
A group of women screams as they jump into the frigid water. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)6 / 13
Water sprays as three women take the plunge. Plungers frequently lost pieces of their outfits in the water, such as hats and flip-flops. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)7 / 13
A group dressed in "Where's Waldo?" outfits takes the plunge. Many plungers chose to wear costumes during their jumps. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)8 / 13
Two men perform the final scene of Dirty Dancing before plunging into the water. Many plungers requested special music to jump to. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)9 / 13
A group of plungers poses for a photo before jumping. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)10 / 13
A large crowd watches as jumpers brave the Polar Plunge. Event announcers remarked on the size of the crowd, attributing it to the warm weather. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)11 / 13
Two PolarFest attendees take a selfie with Polar Pete. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)12 / 13
Saturday night's "Frozen Fireworks" over Little Detroit Lake put a glittering cap on the day's Polar Fest activities, with over 20 minutes of dazzling displays paid for through generous donations from local businesses. (Vicki Gerdes/Tribune)13 / 13

Like any mostly-outdoor festival held during the oft-frozen peak of a Minnesota winter, Detroit Lakes' Polar Fest has had its weather-related challenges over the past couple of decades.

This year, however, Mother Nature smiled upon the community's celebration of all things winter, with nary a snowflake or subzero temperature reading in sight through its 12-day run.

"The weather was finally in our favor for pretty much everything," said Amy Stoller Stearns, a longtime member of the Polar Fest planning committee.

"It was almost too warm," added fellow committee member Beth Pridday.

Not that anyone was complaining. The final days of Polar Fest saw at or near record-setting participation — and crowd enthusiasm — for most events, culminating in Saturday's Polar Fest Plunge and related festivities, which raised over $60,000 for the Boys & Girls Club of Detroit Lakes.

"If only we could have weather like this every year," joked Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Pat Petermann, who doubled as a co-master of ceremonies for Saturday's Plunge, along with James Vogt.

The Plunge drew participants from as far away as Pittsburgh, Pa., Las Vegas, Nev., Omaha, Neb., and Arizona, added Sue Trnka, the Boys & Girls Club's resource development director.

"We had 95 'plungers' who raised $16,582," Trnka said, which was more than enough to earn the $10,000 match that had been pledged by BTD Manufacturing prior to the event. With the raffles held at both the Plunge Kickoff Party on Friday night and on the ice Saturday afternoon, including nearly $7,000 in prizes donated by area businesses, that put the total at over $60,000 for the weekend, Trnka added.

Organizers of the week's other events also reported better-than-average participation and crowd attendance.

"There were 23 teams registered for the Ice Tee (golf tournament) on Friday," Pridday said. "That was a record number. They had two courses set up for us to golf on."

She said there was even a group who came to the event on a bus from Bismarck, N.D., as part of a bachelor party.

"They had six teams registered," Stearns said, though only four teams actually ended up participating. "The groom told us that if he'd gotten married in the summer, they would have gone golfing, so they decided to go here."

"They read about it online and decided to get on a bus and go," Pridday added.

It was another example of how Polar Fest's reach has extended far beyond the lakes area, Stearns said.

"It's a community event, yes, but it draws a lot of people from outside Detroit Lakes too," she added. "It has a big economic impact, both locally and from a tourism standpoint — not to mention all the money it raises for all these organizations."

Stearns, who is also the director of the Holmes Theatre, said that the four events it held over the run of Polar Fest — the Daddy's Little Sweetheart Dance on Feb. 10, the "Alice in Wonderland" play on Thursday, and the back-to-back shows by "duelling pianists" Dave Eicholz and Ted Manderfeld on Friday — were all quite well-attended, culminating in Friday night's sold out "Deuces Wild" show.

Becker County Historical Society & Museum director Becky Mitchell also reported that there were around 75 people who attended the museum's Aquavit Social on Friday evening, which was "quite good."

Jim Brogren at the Lodge on Lake Detroit reported that their Sunday night wine pairing dinner had drawn a full house of 29 people, including four overnight guests, while Saturday night's Welcome to Polaritaville dance at Zorbaz, hosted by the Lakes Area Parrot Heads, "had lots of people in tropical shirts, leis, grass skirts and flip flops, raising lots of cash and canned goods for the Becker County Food Pantry."

Though the warm weather didn't make for such great snowmobile riding, ULTRA Snowmobile Club member Wayne Schlauderaff said that the club's Saturday morning Vintage Rally and Swap Meet was also well-attended.

"We had a good show, and the weather was beautiful," he added, noting that there were between 95-100 different vintage sleds on display. "It couldn't have been any better. The swap meet had average to good participation as well."

"There was no shortage of people anywhere," Pridday added.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 17 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454