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Thirty years ago, two men named Don Hogan and Bob Martin stood on the snow-frosted shores of Chautauqua Lake and looked out across the ice. It reminded them of cold Minnesota winters and how lakeside towns in the Midwest would use blocks of ice to construct grand, illuminated castles. They looked at each other and said: we can do that here. So they did.
Three decades later, what was once a humble ice castle attraction has evolved into a full-fledged community festival. And this year’s event – with a bursting schedule, an endless list of activities, and an army of sponsors – proves more than ever that this festival is so much bigger than just an ice castle. The 2017 President’s Day Weekend Winter Festival, which is orchestrated by the Mayville/Chautauqua Community Chamber of Commerce, will take place Feb. 17-19. Weekend events will be located throughout the village of Mayville, but are primarily centered in Lakeside Park.
Schedule of Events
The winter festival kicks off Friday at 6 p.m. with opening ceremonies at Lakeside Park, followed by live music from the band Black Widow at the Lakeview Hotel. Opening ceremonies usually include the crowning of the festival’s king and queen, and are only held if an ice castle has been built. At the time of press, the Mayville/Chautauqua Community Chamber of Commerce was still undecided about the construction of a 2017 castle.
“It is to be determined,” said Deborah Marsala, community coordinator for the Chamber. “There has to be a certain amount of ice, and we have to think about safety…but if there’s any possible way to do it, our construction team is committed to building a castle.”
Castle or no castle, Marsala says organizers have put a lot of effort into creating an exciting schedule of activities that can stand alone. The weekend will be full of food and craft vendors, drawings, contests, and games.
“It used to be that if there wasn’t a castle, we wouldn’t hold the festival,” Marsala said. “But we don’t do that anymore. We’ve created a lot of events that are not dependent on the weather.”
Saturday is the busiest day for the festival, with events running from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. Non-weather dependent events include horse drawn wagon rides from 12 to 4 p.m., a pet parade at 3 p.m., a visit from Rainbow the Clown, ice carvings, live music from Bob Campbell and Liz Osborne, and a bonfire lighting at 6:30 p.m. Other, more weather-dependent events include a snowball throwing competition, snowmobile rides, a flare parade, and an 8 p.m. fireworks show put on by Skylighters of New York. Saturday is also the date set for the Polar Plunge, organized by Family Health Medical Services to benefit the Food Bank of Western New York.
“[The Polar Plunge] is always popular,” Marsala said. “And it’s raising money for a good cause.”
Sunday marks another full day of festivities, starting with the Fire and Ice Volleyball Tournament, which takes place at the Lakeview Hotel as early as 8:45 a.m. The rest of the day’s events begin at 11 a.m., including a wide array of children’s activities. There will be a snowman building competition, an edible crafts station, a golf ball race, a giant slide, and a Lego building contest.
“We have so much going on,” Marsala said. “There’s just no reason to be bored.”
Leading up to the festival is one brand new event, the Festival Logo Scavenger Hunt. This is taking the place of the Medallion Treasure Hunt, which according to Marsala, was no longer a feasible activity.
“It had been done for so many years, that it just got to the point where not many people were participating,” she said. “And it was hard for some people – when you’re 85 years old, you can’t always go trudging through the snow. We thought maybe it was time for a change. This scavenger hunt is going to allow more people to participate.”
The Festival Logo Scavenger Hunt began Feb. 1 and will continue until the end of the month. Festival logos are hidden in chamber-member retail businesses, each marked with a number. Customers who find the logos will be entered in a drawing to win one of three cash prizes.
“The hunt is just a way to get more people involved,” Marsala said.
With a festival this big, it takes an entire village to organize and execute it successfully. Planning for the festival begins months in advance, and although it is a Chamber-organized event, it is heavily dependent on volunteers to help put it into motion.
“We have a small, very dedicated group of volunteers from the community…who plan and work on this for several months,” Marsala said. “We always need more volunteers. We are welcome to anyone who would like to work on this huge event in the future.”
Besides individual volunteers, the Chamber is heavily reliant on local businesses to make the festival a reality. Businesses set up vendor booths, participate in raffles and contests, and sponsor activities. In return, they often gain publicity and see an increase in business.
“Our economy is very reliant on tourism, and the festival comes at a time when there may not be a lot of people in town,” Marsala said. “So this is a huge economic boost for businesses. It’s really an event organized to help them.”
Non-profit organizations also get involved with festival happenings, usually partnering with the Chamber to help facilitate festival parking. There is a five dollar parking donation to enter the festival: half of these proceeds return to the Chamber to help cover festival costs, and the other half goes to the organizations that assisted with parking.
“It’s a way to give money out to the community, so not-for-profits can raise some money,” Marsala said.
Finally, there are the numerous sponsors who have donated funds and services to the festival in varying degrees: major being the greatest donation, followed by platinum, gold, silver, and bronze. Major sponsors this year were The Media One Group, Town of Chautauqua, Clark Patterson Lee Design Professionals, Village of Mayville, and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 17.
“I think it’s great the businesses are getting behind this,” Marsala said. “They’ve been so generous.”
For more information on the 2017 President’s Day Weekend Winter Festival, visit the event’s page on Facebook. A full schedule of events can be found at MayvilleChautauqua.org, although all activities are subject to change and weather conditions.