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Despite warmth, visitors enjoy Aqua Freeze Festival

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 26, 2016

 From left to right, St. Clair Shores residents Abigail Billiu, 5, and Jade Farmer, 7, work on crafts during the last day of the Aqua Freeze Festival.

From left to right, St. Clair Shores residents Abigail Billiu, 5, and Jade Farmer, 7, work on crafts during the last day of the Aqua Freeze Festival.

Photo by John McTaggart


ST. CLAIR SHORES — With warm breezes blowing and children happily climbing play structures, using the swings and monkey bars of Blossom Heath Park, it almost could have been spring.

But that was the weather that greeted visitors to the third annual St. Clair Shores Aqua Freeze Festival in February.

With highs near 60 degrees for the first two days of the festival, it wasn’t so much frozen as melting, but many visitors didn’t seem to mind.

“Saturday was a stellar crowd; we were packed,” said Aqua Freeze co-chair Geri Hofmann. “I couldn’t see across the tent once we did get going. All the music was good.”

Along with the high temperatures, there were also high winds the first two days of the three-day event, which knocked down the tent Feb. 19 and caused the festival to shut down early that night and open late the next morning. 

Although the Our Lady of Hope fish fry had already ended by the time the event was shut down Friday night, the Optimist Club of St. Clair Shores lost out on pizza sales and the Clinton Township Kiwanis Club had to shut down the bar early. Hofmann said the event closed about an hour early Friday night and could not reopen with a repaired tent until noon on Saturday, meaning Lake Shore High School could not put on the pancake breakfast it was planning either. Children’s crafts planned for Saturday had to be canceled as well because of the high winds, and the zip line could not open until 4:30 p.m. that day instead of 11 a.m. as planned.

And even though ice sculptures carved for the event were all in a state of melting by the middle of the weekend, visitors didn’t seem to mind the change. Musical acts continued throughout the weekend, as did fowling, giant Jenga, hula hooping and horse-drawn carriage rides.

“I love that it’s a beautiful day and I love the community,” said Katie Hogan, of St. Clair Shores. “I actually love that it’s not a cold festival.”

Many of those attending hadn’t been to the past two years of the festival.

“I’m having a blast,” said Erika Christenson, of St. Clair Shores. “I like being able to get out and walk, and it’s not just a park. The community’s all here, which I think is the best.”

Cathy and Tom Arnold, of St. Clair Shores, said they were a little disappointed that all the ice sculptures were melting, but they were happy the festival continued as planned, even with the high winds.

“It looks like all the kids are getting to run energy out,” she said. 

And Nancy White, of South Lyon, said that while her granddaughter missed the sledding hill, she was still excited about other offerings at the festival, including the free rides from Pinecrest Percherons and Carriage Service.

“I can see how beautiful they were ... but too bad” that the weather caused the ice sculptures to melt prematurely, she said. “A lot of work went into them.”

 “It would be beautiful if it hadn’t been so warm,” agreed Sherry Rogers, of St. Clair Shores. “It’s always fun to get out to any festival. We’re trying to get out and experience St. Clair Shores.”

Hofmann said the weather’s biggest impact on the festival was the lack of a sledding hill and the melting sculptures.

“The big impact was the ice melting,” she said. The musical note ice sculpture on Jefferson Avenue was “beautiful the first couple hours, and then it just went down.”

In the future, she said, they may cut the festival down to a two-day event, eliminating the Friday night of the weekend. 

“We’ve had such problems on Friday,” she said. 

But there were definitely good points to the festival, she said, including the fowling competition between the Police Department and city officials — the city won — and the 20 participants in the annual Polar Plunge, who didn’t have to jump through ice but did have to swim around to the other side of the dock to get out. Hofmann said they were likely in the water longer this year than they had been in the past.

She said Aqua Freeze organizers will be looking for more sponsors for the 2017 festival — they fell $10,000 short this year. 

“We have no cushion at all for next year. A lot of things we wanted to do we couldn’t do because we didn’t have the money for it,” she said. 

Volunteers helped make the event, though, from assistance from Mayor Kip Walby to volunteers from the Woods Church of the Shores, who came out Sunday afternoon to help clean up the tent. 

The horse-and-buggy rides were also extremely popular, she said. 

“I guess next year, we’ll try for more fundraisers,” Hofmann said.