Crowds warm up to frozen fun at Aqua Freeze

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 3, 2015

 Finesse Ice carver Ray Lucier, of Shelby Township, creates a sculpture for the festival.

Finesse Ice carver Ray Lucier, of Shelby Township, creates a sculpture for the festival.

Photos by Erin Sanchez


ST. CLAIR SHORES — With visitors coming from as far as Florida and France, the 2015 St. Clair Shores Aqua Freeze Festival was bigger and better than the inaugural event.

“I think, on the whole, we learned a lot from last year,” said organizer Geri Hofmann. “You never can bank on the weather. ... You can bank on having fun. We tried to make it so that it was something for every age group, and I think it was a success.”

Speaking near the sledding hill constructed for the event at Blossom Heath Park Feb. 21, Joe Wielgot, a festival staff member, said that the day was perfect for the festival.

“When you got kids out here like this and on the lake ... the carriage ride’s full every time,” he said. “Especially when it’s cold, it’s good for an Aqua Freeze.”

New this year were free horse-drawn carriage rides on Saturday. Those, the ice sculptures and the sledding hill, created by Landscape Services, were a big hit.

St. Clair Shores Mayor Kip Walby noted that there was excellent turnout on Saturday afternoon.

“We’ve had a constant stream on the sledding hill,” he said. “(And for) the carriage rides, which I think were a great add-on for 2015.”

“It was a little chilly yesterday,” he added. “But it was much better than a year ago.”

Hofmann said there were more bands in 2015, as well, and they raised more than $600 from the approximately 30 jumpers who took the plunge Feb. 22 in the second annual Aqua Freeze Polar Plunge.

“This year, we had two exchange students from France, so they’re coming from far and wide,” she said. “Our youngest (plunger) was 11 and our oldest was 65.”

The Aqua Freeze drew people that had never seen winter weather before, as well.

Mike Feiss, of Florida, said this was his first time seeing snow.

“It’s cold, it’s really cool and I like it,” he said. “It’s nice.”

He and his family were visiting Jessica Bautel, of Warren, and she brought them to the Aqua Freeze Festival. Bautel said she lived in Florida her entire life until two years ago, when her husband was transferred to Michigan.

“They’ve never experienced this, so we’re trying to find fun activities for them,” she said. “It seems pretty great, lots of fun stuff.”

City Councilman Anthony Tiseo said that the 2015 festival was awesome.

“It’s great that we got the perfect weather for today,” he said Feb. 21. “I love the theme. This has been a project for many years and to finally have it come to fruition (is great).”

The 2015 theme for the festival was the Oscars, in honor of the Feb. 22 showing of the 87th Academy Awards. Jim Shields, of Finesse Ice, said the company was commissioned to provide 44 individual carvings, including sculptures of Mickey Mouse, Darth Vader, “Despicable Me” minions and more, plus multi-block sculptures like the Marilyn Monroe ice carving now standing on Jefferson Avenue. Each carving takes about an hour or an hour-and-a-half to create. He said the sculptures and watching live carving demonstrations are quite popular, “especially when the weather’s nicer.”

“There’s a good crowd coming out,” Shields said. “I think they did a better job this year ... better turnout.”

Kim Gallus, of St. Clair Shores, said she didn’t know what to expect when she came to the festival, but it was fantastic.

“We had a great time, lots to do for everyone, truly,” she said. “It’s our first time and we will definitely be back.”

Couldn’t make it this year? The ice sculptures and sledding hill will be left at Blossom Heath Park for as long as possible, Hofmann said.

“The gates will stay open ... unless we see it gets unsafe. The walking path, we’ll make sure that’s kept salted,” she said. “We don’t want those ice sculptures to go to waste. We paid a lot of good money for them.”

Hofmann said ice skating on the ponds in Wahby Park, in front of Blossom Heath, was also a hit. Members of the Lac Ste. Clair Baseball Association volunteered to clear the ice so that members of the St. Clair Shores Hockey Association could host games on the ice and the public could skate on the other pond.

“Everybody had a ball,” she said.

And with more musical acts lined up, more people visited the heated tent, she said. Crowd estimates for the entire weekend were about 2,500 people, Hofmann said, and they are already working on plans for 2016’s festival with a theme of the 1950s.