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Nice ice, baby: Conditions look good for DL's first ice harvest in nearly 50 years

Volunteers tested out some equipment Tuesday morning at the site of next week's Ice Harvest on Little Detroit Lake. The site has been marked off with orange fencing, which can be seen in the background. (Submitted photo)

Conditions are go for Detroit Lakes' first ice harvest in nearly 50 years, say event organizers: As of Tuesday morning, the ice on Little Detroit Lake near the DL Pavilion had reached a depth of 17½ inches — exceeding the thickness needed for harvesting by nearly half a foot.

"It needs to be a minimum of 12 inches," says Ice Harvest Committee member Scott Walz, who along with fellow committee member Hans Gilsdorf, completed the official depth measurement on Tuesday.

"We've been checking it a couple of times a week," Walz added, noting that by the time the ice harvest is officially set to commence next Thursday, Jan. 11, it could be up to a couple feet deep.

"The crew from Wee Cut Ice in Spicer, Minn., will be here that morning to set up the equipment," said Gilsdorf. "The ceremonial first block of ice is set to be cut at 11 a.m."

"We wanted to bring in a professional company to do it (the harvest), because they have the equipment, and the expertise," said Amy Stearns, another member of the Ice Harvest Committee.

"They've been cutting ice since 1987," Walz said.

But that doesn't mean they don't want anyone who was involved with the ice harvest industry back in the 1940s, 50s, 60s (the last official harvest occurred in 1970) to be involved, Stearns noted.

"We'd love to see them down there," she added. "In fact, we want to see lots of people out there watching."

The ice harvest will continue through Thursday afternoon until about 4-5 p.m., then resume Friday morning.

Once the ice harvest is finished — "we're shooting for 1,500-1,600 blocks of ice," Gilsdorf said — construction will start on the Detroit Lakes Ice Palace, for which Gilsdorf is the lead designer.

"The palace itself will use about 1,000 blocks of ice," Gilsdorf said, noting that the structure would be approximately 24x60x30 feet in size. "The remaining ice will be used to create a seating area and some fun, interactive stuff for people to explore. The idea is to get people to come out and embrace winter, enjoy being outside and experiencing it for themselves."

"We want it to be a really kid-friendly, family-friendly area," Stearns added.

Construction of the ice palace will begin immediately after the ice is harvested, Gilsdorf said. "That Friday (Jan. 12), we'll start staging the blocks, and the central tower and footprint for the ice palace will begin that weekend. We encourage people to come down and watch the construction."

Gilsdorf said he expects the process to take approximately three weeks, with the completed structure to be officially unveiled at a Grand Lighting Ceremony set for 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 9 — to coincide with the opening of Detroit Lakes' 2018 Polar Fest celebration.

There are still opportunities to get involved with the Detroit Lakes Ice Palace project, Stearns noted: A GoFundMe account has been set up to help promote and finance the project, and volunteers are still being sought to help with the logistics.

"We need people to be on site, both during the construction and the Polar Fest celebration, to answer questions and serve as 'Palace Protectors,'" Stearns said.

Contributions to the GoFundMe campaign can be made either via the direct link,, or by going to the main page at and doing a search for "Ice Palace in Detroit Lakes MN." Those who would like to volunteer to assist on site during the ice palace construction and Polar Fest activities are asked to send an email to

Ice harvest history exhibit

The ice harvest and ice palace site will both be located near the Detroit Lakes Pavilion, which will be open for viewing not only the ice harvest and palace construction, but also a series of displays and interactive activities hosted by the Becker County Museum inside the Pavilion on Jan. 11-13.

"Our museum building will be closed during the second week of January," said Becky Mitchell, the museum's executive director. "Our staff will be busy setting up exhibits at the Pavilion for the Ice Harvest taking place on Little Detroit Lake that Thursday and Friday." The museum's staff will be temporarily relocating to the Pavilion and setting up a special history exhibit inside the building, to include photos, artifacts and other memorabilia from Becker County's ice harvesting era. "We'll also have interactive activities and school tours," said Mitchell. In fact, due to the sheer number of school groups planning to partake in the exhibits and activities at the Pavilion, "those who want to bring in groups of 10 people or more should contact us and schedule a time," says the museum's program director, Emily Buermann. The exhibits and activities at the Pavilion will be open for three days, Jan. 11-13, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. The ice harvest and palace construction can also be viewed from inside the Pavilion.

"We will also have copies of the new 'Winter Harvest' book and other museum merchandise available for sale," said Buermann.

Copies of the new book, "Winter Harvest: A History of the Becker County Ice Industry," which was commissioned by the museum and written by Frazee native Pippi Mayfield to commemorate DL's first ice harvest in nearly 50 years, will be available for sale at the Pavilion that weekend, along with some other museum merchandise.

Mitchell said that they have also ordered some special commemorative lanterns especially for the Ice Harvest. Those lanterns, which will be used for overnight safety lighting along the perimeter of the hole where the ice will be harvested, can be purchased by the public in advance, then taken home after the harvest is complete. "The lanterns will have labels on them that say '2018 Ice Harvest,'" Mitchell said. Those interested in purchasing the commemorative lanterns should contact the museum for more information. For more information about the Ice Harvest and other upcoming exhibits, programs and activities, please call the Becker County Museum at 218-847-2938 during regular business hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 17 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