Chipping away at it: Volunteers are making progress on Polar Fest ice structures
Work has begun on the royal transformation of the Detroit Lakes City Beach and Park into a winter wonderland fit for a king.
On Monday, volunteers embarked on the chilly task of constructing a giant throne of ice on the beach near the Pavilion. The throne will serve as the centerpiece of King Isbit's Royal Courtyard and Palatial Playground, a big feature of this year's Polar Fest.
Once the throne is complete, it's sure to be the site of thousands of selfies and family photos taken during Polar Fest. A Grand Lighting of the throne will kick off the 12-day festival at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7.
A team of several volunteer construction workers has been hard at it in single-digit temperatures this week, bundled up in their warmest winter gear as they stack 600-pound ice blocks for the throne structure, which includes a decorative backdrop wall. The blocks — about 300 in all — were harvested from Detroit Lake on Jan. 5.
Hans Gilsdorf, a local artist and the Royal Courtyard's lead designer, said this year's throne will be bigger, better lit and more intricately decorated than last year's, which sat in the same spot on the beach as a secondary feature to the festival's first-ever Ice Palace.
The palace proved very popular and will return again in 2021, Gilsdorf assured. Until then, the throne and other outdoor entertainment offerings around the Pavilion will continue to be expanded and enhanced every year. This year's ice and snow features will be just as imaginative, "just as much fun" and even more detailed than last year's, he said.
The Royal Courtyard will consist of the large throne as well as several other fully explorable ice structures like sofas and chairs that people can sit on. The throne is imagined to belong to the legendary King Isbit, who, along with his friend Polar Pete (the mascot of Polar Fest), is said to have started the first winter festival in Detroit Lakes years ago.
Right around the corner of the Pavilion from there will be the Palatial Playground, where kids can slide down a tubing hill and crawl around in some snowy "gopher tunnels."
In the City Park, a couple of large areas will be reserved for ice and snow sculpture competitions, both of which will be considerably larger and have a more regional competitive scope than they did last year.
Even without the construction of a palace, Gilsdorf said, the project is a tremendous undertaking for the community, requiring a substantial amount of donations and volunteer hours. As an example, he and the other construction volunteers will be out at the beach every day between now and the start of Polar Fest, from about 9 a.m. until 6 p.m., almost seven days a week.
Then there are the committee volunteers who help plan for the festival all year long, and the many more locals who help out at various events during the festival itself.
"It's an all-volunteer effort," Gilsdorf said. "The motto is, 'By the community, for the community,' so we kind of take that to heart."
From local business owners to equipment operators, marketing professionals to construction workers, every volunteer is a crucial part of the Polar Fest team, bringing their own unique skills and talents to the table.
Jack Davis, for example, has gone to great lengths to research and install a new kind of lighting system into this year's throne structure. A retired automation specialist, he's taken on the intensive task of embedding strips of LED lights into the ice, a process that Gilsdorf said takes a lot of precision and fine-tuning.
"It's a much more engineered lighting system than just flood lights," he said, adding that all the extra effort will be worth it in the end: "It's going to be a huge light show."
Collectively, the features and events taking place around the Pavilion during Polar Fest have been dubbed, "MN Sn'Ice: A Minnesota Snow and Ice Showcase," an effort led by the Detroit Lakes Ice Harvest Steering Committee.
The whole idea of the showcase, and Polar Fest in general, is to provide people with fun ways to "really immerse themselves within the ice," said Gilsdorf.
"We want people to really enjoy why they live up here," he added. "It's just a lot of fun to come outside and embrace the winter."
Polar Fest will kick off with the grand lighting of the ice throne and then continue through Feb. 18. For more information about Polar Fest events, or to sign up to volunteer or become a sponsor, visit www.polarfestdl.com.
For more information about the Courtyard construction, including a live video feed of the volunteers at work, visit www.iceharvestdl.org or follow Ice Harvest DL on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.