This year’s Great Ice! Festival in North Hero had to be condensed from its usual three days to one night, given the thin ice on Lake Champlain.
Several hundred people lit up their Friday night at the festival anyway. Except for a one-time pandemic break two years ago, Great Ice! has illuminated City Bay in North Hero every February since 2007.
“We’re so thankful they continue to do it, even though there’s no ice to do it on,” Mary Ellen Hutchins of North Hero said.
The Over N’ Back Trek, which is a hike across the bay, had to be canceled. The dogsled rides, the snowshoe walk and the open skating in an illuminated rink, right on the bay, were also called off. However, it may have been more important to simply continue holding the event at all.
“I’m really happy that they have this! I think it’s great, and everybody is safe,” Teri Emilo Hagen of Grand Isle said. “We don’t have to worry about anyone going out on the ice and having second thoughts.”
The festival’s Christmas tree bonfire still warmed up plenty of guests, as usual. Hutchins and her family kept their tree well after New Year’s in order to participate.
“Absolutely,” she said. “We always make sure we save it so that we can bring it over and donate it to the bonfire, which is great. We donated it with nothing on it.”
Organizers moved the bonfire and the fireworks inland this year. However, even with the changes and the February cold, the festival was a great deal more accommodating than it could have been.
“Yes! It was so cold last year! It’s a bummer we don’t have the ice, but it’s so nice that it’s warm enough for us to be out here and we don’t have to be freezing,” Hutchins said.
Emilo Hagen wants everyone who may be thinking about setting foot on Lake Champlain to think again.
“Really think twice about going on the ice,” she said. “It’s very important to me; I worry about people. The ice is not safe right now.”
Dwayne Cormier, a festival volunteer ever since it was founded in 2007, bought and restored the Zamboni that now belongs to Great Ice!. He passed away last fall. In his memory, this year’s festival proceeds will help convert an existing building in North Hero into a winter recreation center where the Zamboni will be stored.