First Ice Harvest Since 1971 Begins On Little Detroit Lake

volunteers are building a 24-foot-tall by 30-foot-wide ice palace


DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — The sounds of saws roaring on Little Detroit Lake is the first sign of an ice harvest since 1971.

“In the 30’s, it was the second largest industry in this county right behind the forestry industries,” said Becky Mitchell, Becker County Museum executive director.

“They shipped ice all over the country to be used for refrigeration and box cars and railroads, for people’s houses, for resorts, for everything,” said Scott Walz, with the Ice Harvest and Ice Palace Festival.

Ice harvesting just so happens to be back, by accident.

“Originally we were going to be taking 2,400 blocks of ice to send to Saint Paul for a major ice palace they were going to build at the Super Bowl,” Walz said.

The plans fell through because of a lack of funding.

Instead, of calling it quits, Detroit Lakes decided to do something a little different to commemorate the city’s ice harvesting history.

Each ice block weighs about 900 pounds and will be used to create a 24-foot-tall ice palace.

Workers started cutting the ice Thursday, intending to cut more than 1,500 blocks by the end of today.
But it might not be as tough as you think.

“They’re basically like big kids just with bigger toys,” Walz said. “I had one of them who came up to me yesterday and said ‘I know I’m volunteering but I feel like I should be paying somebody to have this much fun.'”

The project is even too “cool” for Hans Gilsdorf, the artist behind the ice palace design.

“Working with a totally different material is very exciting,” Gilsdorf said. “I’m just like a little kid out here every single day looking at the blocks of ice. I’m like ‘wow, this is cool. I get to work with it.'”

At night, kerosene lanterns will sit around the open water left by harvesters, a leftover safety measure from the past.

But as always, the past also brings the many stories harvesters have to share.

“It’s been fun to have them come see the action at the Pavilion and share their memories and reminisce and really see the pride in their eyes. It’s something that for them, was probably a pretty laborious task,” Mitchell said.

Construction on the ice palace is expected to be completed by February 8.

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