Fun heats up the park with fifth annual Aqua Freeze

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 23, 2018

  Katelyn Wofford, a 5-year-old from St. Clair Shores, peeks through an ice sculpture at the 2018 St. Clair Shores Aqua Freeze Feb. 17.

Katelyn Wofford, a 5-year-old from St. Clair Shores, peeks through an ice sculpture at the 2018 St. Clair Shores Aqua Freeze Feb. 17.

Photo by Donna Agusti

ST. CLAIR SHORES — “Three! Two! One! Go!”

Visitors to Blossom Heath Park the afternoon of Feb. 18 could have been forgiven for thinking that an Olympic event was about to begin, thanks to the roar of the crowd before and after each of the 36 contestants took the Polar Plunge.

But it was just another event in the activity-packed 2018 St. Clair Shores Aqua Freeze Festival, in its fifth year.

With ice carvings on display, an ice carving competition, pancake breakfasts, beer and other refreshments in a heated tent, a petting zoo, horse and carriage rides and the Polar Plunge — where contestants jumped into a hole cut in the ice of Lake St. Clair — there was something for nearly everyone to enjoy at the festival, held Feb. 17-18 at Blossom Heath Park.

“I look forward to the Polar Plunge,” said Sue Langenbacher, of St. Clair Shores. “I don’t understand how they do it or why they do it.”

Sarah Nycz, of Eastpointe, said that she thought her coworkers were “crazy” for participating in the Polar Plunge, but that she was enjoying the festival. She appreciated that it had “a lot of activities for the kids.”

The St. Clair Shores Farmers Market brings Laura Kosztowny, of St. Clair Shores, out to the park throughout the spring and summer, and she said she was happy to have an excuse to visit in the winter as well. This was her second year attending Aqua Freeze.

“Just to break it up, just to do something,” she said was her reason for coming back to the festival for the second year in a row. Looking at the exotic and farm animals on display at the petting zoo, she said she appreciated all the family-friendly activities.

Hundreds gathered to witness the Polar Plunge.

St. Clair Shores resident Jill Jakob said she wasn’t sure why she agreed to jump into the frigid waters, except “for the experience, I guess.”

She said she didn’t do anything special to prepare, other than “try not to think about it.”

Her friend, Laurie Jenkens, of Casco Township, said she also wanted to jump for the experience and to benefit the charity. Aqua Freeze Co-chair Geri Hofmann said that the proceeds raised from this year’s Polar Plunge, about $800, would benefit the burn camp supported by the St. Clair Shores Fire Department.

Jenkens said that the only preparation she did before jumping was to take a hot shower. After making the plunge, she said she planned to run fast to the bathroom to put on warm clothes.

Jakob and Jenkens weren’t the only friends making the jump together. Husbands and wives got in on the fun, as did 12-year-old Leah Runyon and 11-year-old Ava Ruby, both of St. Clair Shores.

Runyon said she was doing it “for the adrenaline rush.”

“Last year, our parents wouldn’t let us,” Ruby said. “When I heard (Runyon) wanted to do it, I said yes.”

Their parents came prepared.

“My parents brought me a robe, a towel and a blanket,” Runyon said.

“I figured it was a good experience to build a bond with her best friend,” said her father, Will Runyon, of St. Clair Shores.

Overall, the festival went well, said Hofmann.

“The weather was kind of perfect. No one likes the cold, but it kept the ice from melting,” she said.

Ice sculptures in a fairy tale theme were a hit with visitors, who got to pose in front of a giant ice castle with a throne. The petting zoo and the heated entertainment tent were also very popular, she said.

“It was wall to wall by the time the Whiplash (band) came on (Saturday night),” she said. “We know (visitors are) having a good time when the police can’t get them to leave.”

Hofmann said this was her last year working to put the festival together. Originally her idea nine years ago, she said she has enjoyed putting on five festivals in the winter.

“I’ll be glad to help anyone who wants to help take it over,” she said, adding that other members of the committee are still deciding if they will return in 2019. “It could be a whole new crew, but it will be great because we’re not going to abandon them.”

Those wishing to help should watch the city’s website and Facebook page for information, Hofmann said. She said that visitors can also leave suggestions for future festivals on the St. Clair Shores Aqua Freeze Festival Facebook page.