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Cold cuts: In 26-below temps, crews are out pulling 600-pound blocks of ice from Detroit Lake

Construction of Detroit Lakes' Polar Fest Ice Palace got underway this Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 20-22, with the harvesting of 2,000 blocks of ice from Little Detroit Lake. The blocks will be used to construct the city's largest ice palace to date, along with an ice maze, professionally-carved ice sculptures, and more. The palace will be unveiled in a Grand Lighting Ceremony set for 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 11 — which marks the opening of the 17-day winter festival.

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Ice harvest workers, mostly volunteers, push excess ice out of the way of the ice blocks on Jan. 20 during the 2022 Ice Harvest on Little Detroit Lake in Detroit Lakes.
(Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)
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The opening of Detroit Lakes' Polar Fest celebration is only a couple of weekends away, and preparations began in earnest this Thursday as a crew of professional ice cutters and dozens of local volunteers began harvesting more than 2,000 blocks of 600-pound ice from Little Detroit Lake.

"The Wee-Kut Ice crew (from Spicer, Minnesota) showed up around 8:30 and spent the morning setting up the job site," said MN Sn'Ice Harvest Steering Committee member Becky Mitchell. "It was 26 below zero when they started."

Don Okeson, who is serving as the volunteer safety coordinator for the ice harvest and palace construction, said the Wee-Kut crew had set up their equipment for maximum efficiency, from cutting the ice with a giant blade to floating it over to a specially designed conveyor system, then sending it to another giant cutting machine to make sure each block is cut to a uniform size and shape.

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Ryan Kraus pushes new ice blocks through the trimming machine on Jan. 20 during the 2022 Ice Harvest on Little Detroit Lake in Detroit Lakes.
(Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

"Each block is about 20-22 inches thick, and weighs between 600-660 pounds," Okeson said.

Mitchell noted that the ice they took for the first ice palace was much thicker, and each block weighed around 1,000 pounds, which made them much less maneuverable.

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Though the bulk of the ice will be used to construct the community's largest ice palace to date , some of it will also be used for a children's ice maze, a media "icecast" desk, outdoor furniture made of ice, professionally carved ice sculptures and more, she added.

Construction of the 4,000-square-foot ice palace was originally slated to begin shortly after the ice harvest got underway on Thursday, Okeson noted, but some issues caused by the subzero temperatures led to its postponement until Friday.

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Gideon Doty cuts through lake ice with an ice saw on Jan. 20 during the 2022 Ice Harvest on Little Detroit Lake in Detroit Lakes.
(Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Besides the crew from Wee-Kut Ice, there were dozens of volunteers on hand to help with getting the ice ready for construction, and many more will be involved in the construction itself.

"My job is to keep everyone safe," said Okeson — not just the volunteer ice harvest and construction crews, but also the spectators who go down to the City Beach this weekend to watch the process. The harvest will continue through Saturday, Jan. 22.

"First, I want everyone to come and tell me they're here," Okeson said, adding that anyone who is allowed onto the ice harvest and palace construction sites must sign a safety liability waiver. Once that's done, the volunteers are asked to read a short list of rules and regulations to follow, then given a neon yellow safety vest to wear while they're on site.

"Those that got safety vests are asked to return them, and then check in again the next day," Okeson said. "We just want them to be safe, and to use common sense."

Spectators are asked to stay behind the barricades that surround the ice harvest field and palace construction site, unless accompanied by a designated guide.

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Jesse Disse, left and Parker Davis pull an ice block out of the trimming machine on Jan. 20 during the 2022 Ice Harvest on Little Detroit Lake in Detroit Lakes.
(Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)


"It's not just for their safety," Mitchell said, "it's for the safety of the workers, too."

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The ice harvest was expected to wrap up Saturday, Mitchell said, though construction of the palace, King Isbit's Royal Throne and surrounding ice sculptures will most likely continue right up until the Grand Lighting Ceremony at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 11.

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at vgerdes@dlnewspapers.com.
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