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