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Conditions look good for Detroit Lakes' first ice harvest in nearly 50 years

Detroit Lakes Ice Harvest Committee member Scott Walz takes an auger to drill a hole through the ice on Little Detroit Lake, testing its depth in anticipation of next week's ice harvest. Submitted photo1 / 5
Detroit Lakes Ice Harvest Committee member Scott Walz drills through the ice on Little Detroit Lake with an auger, testing its depth in anticipation of next week's ice harvest. Submitted photo2 / 5
Detroit Lakes Ice Harvest Committee member Scott Walz checks out the depth of the ice on Little Detroit Lake in anticipation of next week's ice harvest. The ice depth on Tuesday morning: 17.5 inches. Submitted photo3 / 5
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 photo4 / 5
Detroit Lakes Ice Harvest Committee member Scott Walz measures the depth of the ice on Little Detroit Lake in anticipation of next week's ice harvest. The ice depth on Tuesday morning was 17.5 inches. Submitted photo5 / 5

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — Conditions are good for Detroit Lakes' first ice harvest in nearly 50 years as ice thickness near the Detroit Lakes Pavilion has reached 17½ inches.

That nearly a half foot thicker than needed for harvesting ice on Little Detroit Lake.

"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, Jan. 2.

"We've been checking it a couple of times a week," Walz added, noting that by the time the ice harvest begins Jan. 11, the depth could be 2 feet for Wee Cut Ice, a Spicer, Minn. company hired for the task.

"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.

Additionally, anyone involved with with the ice harvest industry back in the 1940s, 50s, 60s (the last official harvest occurred in 1970) are encouraged 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 is expected to continue through Jan. 12.

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 Feb. 9 to coincide with the opening of Detroit Lakes' 2018 Polar Fest celebration.

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, https://www.gofundme.com/detroitlakesicepalace, or by going to the main page at www.gofundme.com 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 icepalace2018@gmail.com.

Ice harvest history exhibit

Displays and interactive activities hosted by the Becker County Museum will be set up inside the Pavilion, which will be open Jan. 11-13 for spectators to watch the ice harvest and palace construction.

Becky Mitchell, the museum's executive director, said a special history exhibit will include photos, artifacts and other memorabilia from Becker County's ice harvesting era.

"We'll also have interactive activities and school tours," Mitchell said.

Copies of a new book, "Winter Harvest: A History of the Becker County Ice Industry," will be available for purchase. The book was commissioned by the museum and written by Frazee native Pippi Mayfield to commemorate Detroit Lake's first ice harvest in nearly 50 years.

Mitchell said that they have also ordered

Special commemorative lanterns will be used for overnight safety lighting along the perimeter of the ice harvesting hole. The lanterns 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 16 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
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