A cool time had by all at Winter Ice House Festival

The Meadville Tribune

By Earl Corp
Saturday, February 28, 2016

CONNEAUT LAKE — It wasn’t very cold or snowy for the inaugural Winter Ice House Festival at Conneaut Lake on Saturday — but it was very well attended.

“This is so exciting,” said event organizer Sandy Eldridge of the Conneaut Lake Community Development Committee. “The whole community has come out to support this; it’s beautiful.”

The event, held in Ice House Park on the south shore of the lake, featured 33 ice sculptures, 30 one-block sculptures and three giant sculptures all carved by the ice sculptors of DiMartino Ice Co. of Jeanette.

Since the new festival wasn’t a fundraiser, the one-block sculptures were sponsored by local businesses. The CLCDC received a $5,000 grant as seed money from ERIEBANK.
“We couldn’t have done this without them,” Eldridge said.

ERIEBANK Senior Vice President Steve Cappellino was pleased with what he saw, saying, “We’re pretty excited to sponsor them.”

The three giant sculptures featured representations of a Muskie, a giant captain’s seat, and a horse and carriage.

“It’s the biggest Muskie ever in Conneaut Lake,” Eldridge said.

After the Barbara J sternwheeler throne was finished, a piece of carpet was laid across it so visitors could have their pictures taken while sitting in it. Meadville’s Adam and Christin Smith were among the first to do so.

“This is really cool; it’s neat to see the live demonstrations,” Christin said.

“It’s a good use of the Ice House Park,” Adam added.

Christin grew up at Conneaut Lake and remembered watching fireworks on the spot which would become the park. She thinks the transformation of the grounds into the park was a great thing for the community.

Ice House Park is a great venue for the event, according to Eldridge, because of the historical aspect of the ice industry on the spot more than 100 years ago, as well as the unobstructed view of the lake.

The idea of more outside winter festivals in Crawford County sounds good to Eldridge.

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, and we have all this snow and cold weather,” she said.

Ice sculptor Ernie DiMartino was impressed at the size of the inaugural festival, noting, “It’s very large for a first-year event.”

There were five ice carvers on-site creating the sculptures. DiMartino said the CLCDC committee was very organized and had been planning the event for almost a year.

Marie Pettibon and Carol Prather, Conneaut Lake residents who walk around Ice House Park for exercise, were there Saturday checking out the icy art.

“I love the ice sculptures; it’s something nice to have in the middle of winter,” Prather said. “It’s always nice to have a new endeavor.”

Pettibon agreed, saying, “I think it’s a wonderful idea to bring people to Conneaut Lake.”

Eldridge honored two special groups to kick off the festival.

Conneaut Lake middle school teacher Greg Dinsmore and his students placed third in a national contest and was awarded a $10,000 grant which will help to bring a playground to Fireman’s Beach. The grant money will be given to the CLCDC, which is spearheading a campaign to revitalize the beach.

The Keeping Neighbors In Touch (KNIT) organization was honored for the 16 afghans its members made and donated to the Samaritans Thrift Store. Over a six-week period, 10 teams knitted 1,457 squares which would become afghans.

“Think about that 1,457 sections,” said KNIT member Diane Mariani. “The challenge became we had one week to put all those sections together.”

Mariani and Joyce Brugnoli said the goal had originally been to make an afghan. Once all the pieces came in, there was enough to make 16 of the blankets. Brugnoli and Mariani presented plaques to the team and individuals who made the most sections. The top team was the Linesville knitters sponsored by Toni’s Diner, turning in 421 sections. The individual who knitted the most sections was 90-year-old Donnamae Rudler — more than 150.

Across the street at Conneaut Lake Volunteer Fire Department’s Station 3, seven local restaurants competed for bragging rights in a chili cook-off. The 16 afghans hung on the wall as hundreds thronged in to taste the chili.

“I’m a big fan of chili cook-offs,” Mark Yanacek said.

He and his wife, Tina, hit the cook-off before going to the park to check out the ice sculptures.“We figured we’d get nice and warm first,” Tina said.

Mark has participated in chili cook-offs in the past and has brought home some trophies. Tina said this was a great event to usher winter out and to welcome spring. “It’s nice to have something in the community you can be a part of,” she said. “It’s a good way to bring the community together.”

Meadville’s Cathy Best brought her daughter, Michelle Neff, and sister Betty Bish to the event. Bish, who was visiting from Florida, liked that the event featured local talent. She attends an ice sculpture event in Florida and said the sculpture there is made in China.

Eldridge is already looking to the future of the Winter Ice House Festival. 

“We hope this will be continuing and it will be an annual event,” she said.