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Ice Fest has incredible potential for fun

Imagine a toboggan run that left you breathless.

Picture hundreds and hundreds of out-of-town visitors getting off the Detroit & Mackinac train in the middle of winter at the Alpena Depot.

Mix in queens, ice skating, barrel jumping, sleigh rides, hockey, and lots of snow, and you have the makings of winter fun in Northeast Michigan.

Such was Winter Carnivals of the past in Alpena at Mich-e-ki-wis Park.

Later, snowmobile racing also would gain prominence at the Alpena County Fairgrounds during the winter, with events like the Thunder Bay 250.

All that is but a memory today for any of us who were around in those days and who experienced such events. It has been a while — a very long time for sure — since those events took place. Insurance concerns, lack of snow, and lack of event organizers resulted in most of those events disappearing from the community.

That is, until now.

I read with enthusiasm the intent of many different groups in the city to resurrect a winter event in the community next month. Calling it Ice Fest, the event hopefully will include such things as elaborate ice sculptures throughout the area, a huge community bonfire, an ice throne in Culligan Plaza, and various winter events and games geared toward family members of all ages. The event is targeted for Saturday, Feb. 12.

While it may not be a winter carnival, certainly, it promises to be the foundational beginning for a whole new set of memories of winter fun for Northeast Michigan families.

And trust me, people will appreciate the effort.

At the Alpena Area Convention and Visitors Bureau website, Ken Connon shared his memories from the old Winter Carnival. From his recollection, the event was appreciated by everyone.

“What I remember about the Alpena Winter Carnival of the early 50s is the famous ‘Alpena/Detroit Snow Train’ that would arrive at the train depot off 9th Avenue, that was a biggie! I remember the ‘Ice Princess’ and her court, the huge ice throne that was erected on the south end of Mich-e-ke-wis ice rink, the national speed skating tryouts that were held here, the figure skaters from around Michigan and Canada that performed on the large ice rink (it had bleachers on both sides of the rink and they were packed during the carnival), and the Alpena Flyers hockey games played on the hockey rink behind the big rink. It had chicken wire around the outside protecting spectators from getting hit by flying pucks.

“The most fun was sliding down the waterworks hill, you’d almost slide to State Street! And, of course, who can forget going to ‘Pushem’ Up Tony’s’ for one of his famous burgers after a cold day at the carnival! The carnival brought people from all over the area including Detroit, Bay City, Flint, and other parts of Michigan. It was a great era & time for Alpena!”

Memories like those are worth trying to capture again for a whole new generation of Alpena families who never knew themselves what a Winter Carnival was like.

For them, all they have is the stories of others.

I wish the Ice Fest much success.

I believe it holds incredible potential for many new memories to be created.

Bill Speer recently retired as the publisher and editor of The News. He can be reached at bspeer@thealpenanews.com.

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