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Polar Fest celebrates winter

Polar Plungers Allison Cartmell, Taylor LaFriniere and Mark Small make the leap into frozen Detroit Lake Saturday during the annual Polar Plunge. There was a record total of 175 Polar Plungers this year.1 / 2
Polar Fest Spectators watch the Saturday night fireworks from Detroit Lakes City Beach near the warmth of several fire pits.2 / 2

Polar Fest -- Detroit Lakes' celebration of all things cold and snowy -- swept through town like a festive blizzard last week.

Highlights included a resurgent fishing derby, a dance, fireworks, and of course, the Polar Plunge.

"Oh my God, that's cold, I can't hardly breathe," said a chattering Jennifer Bristlin, after jumping into the icy waters of Little Detroit with two friends -- Chris Hukriede and Chrisy Wierima -- who took the Polar Plunge on behalf of Emmanuel Community. They raised $631.

"It's kind of like my bungee-jumping experience," Bristlin added. "I can say I did it -- but never again."

Steve Oren found a warmer way to support the Boys and Girls Club.

He plunked down $40 for the Party at the Tavern at Lakeside Tavern.

"It's worth it for the cause," he said. "It gives a way for someone to contribute without having to jump."

Not that he's a stranger to jumping. He took the plunge last year, raising $1,500 with his boss at SJE-Rhombus, Bruce Hoekstra.

They had a novel fund-raising method. They announced they would wear jeans to the Polar Plunge, and co-workers could pay to enhance the chilliness of their experience by having an inch cut off the bottom. "We stopped at the pockets," he said with a laugh.

They won $1,000 in a Polar Plunge drawing, and donated that back to the Boys and Girls Club as well.

It was cold on Saturday, the day of the Polar Plunge, but there was still a good-sized crowd of several hundred that attended, standing on the ice or on low metal bleachers overlooking the hole in the lake ice.

There were a handful of trailers and sheds used as warming houses, two hot tubs for those about to jump, and a red pavilion-style tent on the ice selling hot dogs and coffee.

"It went well," said Boys and Girls Club Director Pat Petermann.

There were about 170 jumpers, many dressed in bikinis or costumes, including a group of Parrotheads from Des Moines dressed in colorful Mexican fiesta garb.

The Polar Plunge is the big fundraiser of the year for the Detroit Lakes Boys and Girls Club, and it brought in more than $46,000 this year -- a little shy of the $50,000 goal, but enough to make Petermann happy.

"We should be SUPER PROUD of our effort and know that $46,000 for the club at this point is a saving grace," he said in an e-mail to supporters.

Other Polar Fest organizers were also pleased with this year's celebration.

Forty-degree temperatures the first weekend of the festival brought out big crowds for the inaugural Poles 'N Holes Fishing Derby, hosted by the DL Breakfast Rotary Club.

"We had roughly 650 fishermen," said Rotarian Nate Hunter, "and another 100-200 people walking around, checking it out."

There was a full bar on the ice, courtesy of the Speak Easy, and breakfast sandwiches, hot dogs, and coffee was available, he said.

"It was our first year, and we're happy with how it went," Hunter said. "We made $12,000 to $13,000 for Rotary, and that money will go back into serving the community."

Two dozen Detroit Lakes football players showed up at 5 a.m. the day of the derby and spent the next three hours drilling about 2,000 holes in the ice.

"They worked their butts off," Hunter said. The ice augers they used were then given away as prizes at the tournament.

He said 102 fish were caught at the derby.

"There hasn't been a fishing derby here (in Detroit Lakes) for six or seven years," Hunter said. "This area has so many outdoorsmen and people who fish -- we're trying to resume that here."

The Rotary group has already committed to holding another derby next year, on Feb. 11.

Gabe Dretsch of Frazee won the top prize, a new Chevy crew cab four-wheel drive pickup truck.

For a list of winners, check out the Poles N' Holes website at

A dance at Zorbaz and a tailgate party on the lake sponsored by the Lakes Area Parrotheads and M-State "went great," said Jim Brogren. "We had a good weekend. We had over 100 people tailgating, four fires going, Polar Pete was there -- it was a great place to watch the fireworks."

A lot of people also watched the fireworks from the warmth of their cars, parked along West Lake Drive, he said.

There was a good turnout for the dance, Brogren added.

"There were hula hoop contests, tropical attire -- it was fun," he said.

All in all, Polar Fest "seemed like it really went great -- there were a lot of activities," said another organizer, Amy Stearns.

"It was great having (Arctic adventurer) Lonnie Dupre come in -- the library set that up --over 100 people turned up to hear him speak," she said.

The Ice Tee golf event had 18 teams competing, "it was the best ever for that," she said. "We were thrilled with it."

And about 350 dads and daughters showed up for the sweetheart dance at the community center on Feb. 11.

"The little girls just love it," she said.

"The whole week was a lot of fun and a lot of activities going on," Stearns said. "If people have ideas for next year to make it better, they should let us know."