Aqua Freeze one day shorter, but packed with fun

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 8, 2017

 During the 2016 Polar Plunge, Matt Resto goes airborne as he leaps into the frigid waters of Lake St. Clair.

During the 2016 Polar Plunge, Matt Resto goes airborne as he leaps into the frigid waters of Lake St. Clair.

File photo by John McTaggart

ST. CLAIR SHORES — After three years of “some kind of disaster on Friday,” the St. Clair Shores Aqua Freeze Festival is set for Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 18-19, at Blossom Heath Park on Jefferson Avenue, south of 10 Mile Road.

Festival organizer Geri Hofmann said that the decision was made to cut the festival down to two days instead of three because “it seems like we’ve always had some kind of disaster on Friday.” Now in its fourth year, she said they’re hoping for a chillier festival this year, after temperatures hovered around 60 degrees in 2016 and melted ice sculptures nearly as fast as they could be created.

This year, festival organizer Linda Bologna said that the long-range forecast shows the weekend should be in the 30s and cloudy, “which is exactly what we want,” she told City Council in January. 

As long as enough snow materializes, Landscape Services will once again build a sledding hill for the festival, and there will also be a snowman-building contest. 

The 2017 St. Clair Shores Aqua Freeze Festival, with a Mardi Gras theme, will be open 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Feb. 18 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Feb. 19.

“We should have ice on the ponds, so we will have ice skating,” Bologna said. “We’re going to have, again, all the ice sculptures and we’ve got the lighted bases.”

Five colleges will send students to compete with carving a dozen ice sculptures live during the event, and most activities during the two-day event are free. 

Free horse-and-buggy rides will return for the event, but new this year will be nearly three dozen crafters and vendors in an annex to the heated tent, which will also include children’s activities, musical acts, face painting, food for purchase from the St. Isaac Jogues Men’s Club, beer and wine from the Kiwanis, a visit from Pokémon character Pikachu and more.

Children’s activities are scheduled for 11 a.m.-2 p.m. each day, and the craft fair will be held 10 a.m.-4 p.m. both days. In addition, the Detroit Institute of Arts will be bringing its trailer with activities for children and art for adults to enjoy as well.

This year, for the first time, there will be a photo opportunity at a giant inflatable snow globe for $5 per picture. An entire family can fit inside, Hofmann said. 

Other activities include a full musical lineup, Mr. Dave the Magician on Saturday and 1950s-style dancers. A full schedule of activities, including information about the Feb. 19 Polar Plunge at 2 p.m., is available on the event’s website, www.scsaquafreezefest.com.

The fun doesn’t end with the festival. Hofmann said that as long as the ice is firm, the park will stay open for residents to come and enjoy the sculptures.

She said the event wouldn’t be possible without sponsors like the Tax Increment Finance Authority, the Harper Avenue Business Association, Clems Transmission in Fraser, Family Eye Care in Eastpointe, the Presbyterian Villages of Michigan, Roy O’Brien Ford, and Embroidery & Much More in St. Clair Shores.

“We like to promote family things and free fun,” Hofmann said. “Everybody spent enough money at Christmas.”

Aqua Freeze costs about $45,000 to put on annually, she said. 

“It was my dream to start with, way back,” she said. “We’re the perfect venue. We’re on the water, and it just made sense for us to do an ice festival. 

“We’ve really struggled with the weather because we’re the last one on the east side.”

The festival is organized entirely by volunteers, who also include Joe Wielgot, Dave Rubello and Barb Scavone.

“We just keep our fingers crossed for the weather and that people come out and have a good time,” Hofmann said.