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Construction of ice palace to start today: Cold weather causes slight delay, but still on schedule

Crews of professionals and volunteers worked diligently side-by-side throughout the day last Friday and Saturday, Jan. 12-13, to complete the fist ice harvest that Detroit Lake had seen in almost 50 years. In all, a little over 1,100 blocks — each weighing about 900 pounds each — were harvested for construction of 'King Isbit's Ice Palace,' which starts today. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune)1 / 2
File this under "crazy things we Minnesotans do to have fun in winter." After the ice harvesters were finished with their work Saturday afternoon, they fashioned a ball and goalposts out of ice and had an impromptu game of ice soccer — with skid steers. (Vicki Gerdes / Tribune) 2 / 2

With temperatures plunging into the minus 20s toward the end of last week, plans for Detroit Lakes's 2018 Ice Harvest had to be modified slightly to accommodate the arctic cold and wind— but organizers still called the event an unqualified success.

"It went great!" exclaimed Becky Mitchell, director of the Becker County Museum, which hosted an exhibit on "The History of Becker County's Ice Industry" at the Detroit Lakes Pavilion — located adjacent to the ice harvesting site on Little Detroit Lake — as part of the festivities.

"We had over 900 students from area schools who came to the Pavilion to tour the exhibit on Thursday and Friday," she said. "And whenever our doors were open (at the Pavilion), we had anywhere from 5 to 50 people going through the exhibit at any given time."

Thursday's ribbon cutting ceremony for the Ice Harvest, which was held inside the Pavilion due to the sub-zero windchill outdoors, was attended by about 250 people — roughly half of whom were school children, who cheered loudly as the ribbon was cut.

"In all, I think we had about 2,000 people come out for the Ice Harvest," said committee member Carrie Johnston.

There were also quite a few curious onlookers peering over the orange security fence that had been installed around the perimeter of the ice harvest field and the site for "King Isbit's Ice Palace," the 24x30x60 foot structure that will be built from the ice harvested this past weekend.

Starting this morning — Wednesday, January 17 — and continuing up until the first week in February, a crew of volunteer ice cutters and sculptors will be preparing the structure for the arrival of King Isbit, the legendary character whose mythic origin story served as the inspiration for the ice palace's design.

Though construction was originally slated to begin immediately after the ice had been harvested, conditions for the harvest itself caused it to be delayed a few days, says Scott Walz, a member of the Ice Harvest Committee.

"It was so brutally cold that the surface of the ice blocks started crackling as soon as they came in contact with the water (underneath)," Walz said, comparing the cracks that formed to the crazing that forms on glazes for ceramic and glass art.

The professional crew from Wee Kut Ice in Spicer, Minn., who were hired by the committee to help with the harvest — and are experienced in ice palace design as well, having completed several such structures for their hometown winter celebrations over the years — suggested that they let the ice "rest" for a few days, so the cracks can re-harden, Walz added.

"The ice has been sitting under tarps since Saturday," he said, adding that the tarps were added not to protect the blocks from the cold, but from the sun's radiation.

"This will give a really unique look to our ice palace," added fellow Ice Harvest Committee member Amy Stoller Stearns. "Some of the ice will be crystal clear, and some parts of it will have the look of fractured glass."

"It will be very artistic and look really cool with the lights," said Ice Harvest Committee member Hans Gilsdorf, who is also the principal designer for the ice palace, noting that the entire structure would be lighted up during Polar Fest, Feb. 8-19 — though afterwards the structure will need to be dismantled for safety reasons.

The unusually cold weather has also caused the thickness of the lake ice to nearly double over the past month, noted Gilsdorf, so the blocks, which were originally slated to be 22x24 inches and 18 inches thick, weighing around 600 pounds each, are actually about 25 inches thick.

"They weigh exactly 900 pounds each," Walz said.

"Every inch of thickness added is 36 pounds," Stearns added.

That means instead of the original plans for cutting between 1,500-1,600 blocks, "we only ended up taking about 1,130," Walz said.

Gilsdorf said that the original plans for using roughly 1,000 blocks for the palace construction has also been reduced to "about 500-600" of the larger blocks, with the remainder to be used for auxiliary structures such as "King Isbit's Throne" and the "Palatial Playground," which will feature tables and chairs made entirely of ice, as well as an ice slide and a variety of other snow and ice sculptures.

Grand Lighting Ceremony is Feb. 8

The official unveiling of the completed Ice Palace will take place during a Grand Lighting Ceremony at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 8 — which coincides with the opening of Detroit Lakes' annual Polar Fest celebration.

The palace will be lighted every night through the end of Polar Fest, said Johnston, and Stearns added that there will be "Palace Protectors" on duty throughout the event as well.

"We have volunteers who have signed up to provide crowd control, greet people and answer questions about the palace," Stearns explained. "There's still time to do that (sign up), and we do need more volunteers."

(Those who would still like to volunteer to assist on site during the ice palace construction and Polar Fest activities are asked to send an email to icepalace2018@gmail.com.) Mitchell also noted that the Pavillion ice harvesting exhibit would be reopened this Thursday, Jan. 18, for a few school groups that were unable to make it down there this weekend, and would also re-open to the general public on Feb. 8 and remain open during both weekends of Polar Fest, Feb. 9-10 and Feb.16-17, as well as on President's Day, Feb. 19 (when local schools will be closed for the federal holiday).

"We'll be open during our regular museum hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except on Feb. 8, when we will stay open until the Grand Lighting Ceremony at 7 p.m.," she said.

For more information — including a live webcam that will be up and running throughout the palace construction — please visit the website, www.polarfestdl.com/iceharvest, or visit their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages (links are available at the website as well).

A game of... ice soccer?

After Saturday's ice harvest was complete, some of the participants gathered for an impromptu game of ice soccer.

"Eric Rotter and I fashioned a 200-pound soccer ball made out of ice," said Gilsdorf.

"Jon Pratt and I painted the lines and set up the goal posts," Walz added.

Finally, two teams of two skid steers each faced off and batted the "ball" around on the ice until the first goal was made.

"The ball broke," Walz said — but that didn't stop the game. They continued with half a ball until the goal was scored.

"We'd had such a successful harvest, and we were all excited and happy, and we just wanted to have a little more fun," Gilsdorf said. "The little boy in us just came out."

"That was the best part of the harvest, that everyone was so happy," Walz added. "Yes, it was really cold, but we all had a blast."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 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
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