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Ice festival celebrates the cold, welcomes the spring

A bonfire was lit in offering to the ice god. (Photos by Richard Thomas)1 / 20
The crew started with a small hole in the ice that quickly grew in size.2 / 20
Diana Guzman heaves a block of ice using antique tongs.3 / 20
Blake Romenesko makes falafel on a propane stove.4 / 20
Hot cider, with slices of apple and orange, was heated on a wood stove made from a mailbox.5 / 20
Jim Ouray tends a wood stove in a warming tent.6 / 20
Ricardo Rivera, from Puerto Rico, with "Chicarito."7 / 20
It took four people to haul this 16-inch thick chunk of ice out of the water.8 / 20
A puppet parade circles the perimeter of the festival.9 / 20
Ricardo Rivera and John Finkle build the ice wall.10 / 20
Miriam Toro "welds" blocks of ice together by pouring water on them.11 / 20
An ice chunk carved in the shape of Minnesota.12 / 20
The ice is clear on the lower portions. Sitting out in the sun makes the ice even clearer.13 / 20
Radim Capek explains to Katie Frecker how to make crystal-clear ice in a freezer.14 / 20
Brook Tapp saws off the less-clear portions of an ice chunk for the wall.15 / 20
Justin Anderson, seated on an ice bench, blows a horn to announce the bonfire.16 / 20
Radim Capek and Steve Rodriguez toss an ice football.17 / 20
John Finkle carves an “ice lense” to refract light.18 / 20
Katie Frecker with an 1850s-era ice saw.19 / 20
Kelly Wallin uses an ice drill.20 / 20

"It's an offering to the ice god," said John Finkle, co-organizer of the first Duluth Ice Festival. "It ushers in spring, keeps away snakes and gives us good ice rinks and ice cream."

The festival took place at Park Point on Saturday, Feb. 13. You might have missed it because it was only publicized by word-of-mouth and email. Still, around two dozen people showed up to cut blocks of ice from the bay using antique drills and saws, drag the blocks from the water with antique ice tongs and build walls and sculptures using ingenuity.

"The ice is fair game," said co-organizer Steve Rodriguez. "The materials are free and there's no clean-up involved."

Finkle is with the Magic Smelt Morris Dancers and Rodriguez is a member of The Magic Smelt Puppet Troupe. The two groups stage the popular smelt parade and party every May. Like the parade, the ice festival included marchers wearing oversized puppet heads.

Among with attendees was a group from Puerto Rico, guests of a local resident, and they didn't seem the least bit fazed by the 10-degree weather. While they sawed and hacked away at the ice, Finkle offered to bring their dog, "Chicharito," who was bundled in a knapsack against the cold, to be watched over by the cook.

"Yes, but don't cook it," said Radim Capek. Instead, falafel, hot cider and marinated smelt were served.

Though it was a modest event, Finkle said he hopes to see it become an annual occurrence and grow every year. "St. Paul has an ice festival. We have more ice," he said.

Finkle obtained one of the ice saws, made in the 1850s, through Craigslist. He found the ice tongs at Father Time Antiques in Canal Park.

The ice was 16 inches thick, judging from the pieces cut out of the bay, so there was no danger of falling through. Plus the water in that section was barely two feet deep.

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