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Testing, testing... King Isbit's courtyard, playground ready for Thursday's Grand Lighting

This is what King Isbit's Royal Courtyard looked like all lit up for a special test run, held Sunday night in anticipation of Thursday's Grand Lighting Ceremony, which starts at 7 p.m. (Photo courtesy of Lance Akers)1 / 2
These are the designated public parking areas set aside for Thursday night's Grand Lighting Ceremony on the Detroit Lakes City Beach; a portion of West Lake Drive will be closed to traffic in advance of the festivities, which are scheduled to start at 7 p.m.2 / 2

If you've noticed some colored lights emanating from the site of King Isbit's Royal Courtyard on the Detroit Lakes City Beach over the past few nights... you're not imagining things.

The creators of Isbit's throne and the icy furniture, fire pits and other "Palatial Playground" creations surrounding it have been doing a little late night testing on the new lighting system in preparation for Thursday's Grand Lighting Ceremony, which will officially kick off Polar Fest 2019 at 7 p.m.

"The walls are up, the throne is completed, most of the ice furniture is done... we'll be ready," says Hans Gilsdorf, the local artist who did much of the design work for Isbit's throne and courtyard.

But in order to make sure everything went smoothly for Thursday night's reveal, they decided to test all of the lights on Sunday night, and again on Tuesday.

"The colors showed up really well on the webcam," noted Lance Akers, another member of the design team for Isbit's new digs.

Besides the fact that the central throne and backdrop are roughly half the size of last year's ice palace, those attending Thursday night's Grand Lighting Ceremony may notice that the lights themselves look a bit different.

That's because the LED lights were actually embedded within the walls of the structure itself, rather than being placed inside afterwards, according to Gilsdorf.

Chamber of Commerce President Carrie Johnston, who is also part of the Detroit Lakes Ice Harvest Committee, said that part of West Lake Drive will be closed to traffic for the duration of the Grand Lighting festivities, so those planning to come and participate are encouraged to park in the public lots located at the City Park, Freeman Arena and Peoples Park (as shown in the map above).

Polar Fest opening weekend

Also on Thursday, Lakeside Tavern will be tapping the keg on its new Winter Shandy 2019, the official beer of Polar Fest, starting at 4 p.m., and the new kid-friendly Polar Fest Land playground at Lincoln Education Center will be open from 4:30 to 6 p.m. as well.

"The Boy Scouts will also be out selling hot chocolate during the Grand Lighting Ceremony," Akers added.

King Isbit's Royal Courtyard and Palatial Playground form the centerpiece of what is being called "Minnesota Sn'Ice: A Snow and Ice Showcase," which will also include ice carving and snow sculpture competitions, an ice-themed 'I Spy' game, a sledding hill, snow tunnels and more.

The ice carving competition, which is set to take place this Friday and Saturday, Feb. 8-9, will take place in the Palatial Playground, and Gilsdorf says about five teams are already signed up to compete, including some of the most talented ice sculpture artists from the Twin Cities, Fargo, and Lake Park-Audubon areas.

The carvers will be working with 300-pound blocks of man-made ice, coming from a supplier based in the Twin Cities.

"The ice blocks for the competition will be coming into town Wednesday," Gilsdorf said, adding that they chose to use man-made rather than lake-harvested ice because the man-made blocks are virtually free of impurities and, when the sculptures are completed, will have the appearance of clear glass.

The competition will begin at 10 a.m. on Friday, and the teams are allowed to continue their work right up until the judging starts at 6 p.m. on Saturday.

"Come on down and watch them work," Gilsdorf said. "It's like watching a live performance."

Also on Friday, the Historic Holmes Theatre will be hosting its 13th annual Daddy's Little Sweetheart Dance, starting at 6 p.m. with the Grand March, and Friday also marks the start of the Vern Turner Memorial Bonspiel at Lakes Curling Club, which runs through Sunday, Feb. 10.

The Detroit Lakes Breakfast Rotary's annual Poles & Holes Ice Fishing Derby gets underway promptly at noon on Saturday — but the fun actually starts Friday with the Poles & Holes Pre-Party, which will be held at Hub 41 from 7 to 9 p.m.

The gates open for the derby itself at 9 a.m. on Saturday; tickets are $35 in advance or $40 on the ice, and may be purchased at the website, www.icefishingdetroitlakes.org. A second line may be purchased for $20. Over $30,000 in derby prizes and $15,000 in raffle prizes will be awarded. Once the fishing contest has concluded, there will be a Post-Derby Party at the Holiday Inn Lakefront, starting at 3 p.m.

Also on Saturday, come to Detroit Mountain Recreation Area from 9 a.m. to noon and learn how to snowshoe and ski shoe with guides from the North Country Trail Association. Participants start out inside with some basic information and then head outside to hit the trails. Free equipment provided by Detroit Mountain (snowshoes) and Altai and Tracker (skishoes). Kid-size equipment will be available. This event is being offered free of charge, but supplies are limited, and are available on a first come, first served basis. Bring warm clothes.

Following this event, the North Country Trail Association will be hosting a Guided Wildlife Trek at the Hubbell Pond Wildlife Management Area from 1 to 3 p.m. This free, family-friendly winter hike is designed for participants to learn more about winter wildlife on the nation's longest hiking trail. Meet at the North Country Trail Access to the Hubbell Pond WMA; look for the North Country Trail Access highway signs off Highway 34 between Detroit Lakes and Park Rapids.

For more information on these two NCTA-sponsored events, contact Matthew Davis at 701-388-1883 or davis@northcountrytrail.org.

One more Polar Fest event is slated for Saturday: The Great Polar Race will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Teams of 2-4 people will drive around Detroit Lakes to solve riddles, complete assigned tasks and compete for prizes. o register, call 218-847-9202 for registration form or print it out at the website, www.polarfestdl.com. All proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society of Becker County.

Sunday's festivities will include the 2nd Annual Great MinneSoda Hotdish Challenge at Grace Lutheran Church, and the "SnoWay But Up, SnoWay But Round" Races at Detroit Mountain Recreation Area.

The racing begins bright and early at DMRA with the SnoWay But Up running race at 8:30 a.m., followed by the SnoWay but Round fat tire bike races at 9:30 a.m.

"Anything goes" for the running race, except wheels and motors. You can choose to ski, run, snowshoe, or try a combination of any of the above in this two-mile race, which follows a loop up, down and around Detroit Mountain itself.

For those who would rather roll than run, grab your fat tire mountain bike (tires must be 3.5 inches or wider) and join in the fun at the SnoWay But Round bike races, which follow a 3.5, 7 or 10-mile route using a combination of bike and Nordic skiing trails.

Registration starts at 7:45 a.m. on the day of the races, but you can also sign up in advance at www.detroitmountain.com. Cost is $25 in advance or $30 the day of the race for either individual event; you can also sign up to compete in both for $30 in advance, or $40 the day of the race.

The 2nd Annual Great MinneSoda Hotdish Challenge will feature the best-of-the-best hotdish recipes from area churches, businesses and residents — and new this year, a dessert bar competition as well!

Bring your hotdish and dessert bar entries to Grace Lutheran Church (213 Roosevelt Ave., Detroit Lakes) before the contest judging gets underway at 4 p.m. — or if you don't want to enter yourself, just come early and taste some of these mouth-watering dishes before they're gone! A free will offering will be taken for the dinner, which will include your choice of hotdish, dinner roll and soda (while supplies last). For more information, please call Jim Brogren at 218-841-2968.

Many more Polar Fest events will be held during the coming week as well; please visit www.polarfestdl.com for a complete schedule.

Volunteers still needed

Want to be a part of all the fun at the Royal Courtyard and Polar Fest 2019? Volunteers are still needed, says Becky Mitchell, another member of the planning committee.

"We need a lot of volunteers to be Royal Guards," Mitchell said, adding that anyone can sign up to work a two-hour shift during Polar Fest, whether as individuals or in groups.

"The Royal Guards will not only keep the courtyard and playground safe, they will also be answering questions, helping out at the museum exhibit or on the sledding hill, taking photos for visitors, and wherever else they may be needed," Mitchell said. "It's a lot of fun, but make sure to dress warm!"

"And bring your positive winter attitude," Johnston added, noting that the Royal Guard volunteers will essentially be serving as ambassadors for the community and helping to promote the celebration of winter — which is what Polar Fest is all about.

Volunteers can sign up anytime at the website, www.iceharvestDL.org, by clicking on the "Get Involved" link at the top of the page.

"Businesses and organizations can also arrange for a block of time to volunteer as a group, by calling the museum anytime between now and Feb. 7," Mitchell said (the museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, but closed on Sundays and Mondays).

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454