While many Alaskans gathered around wood stoves and big screen TV's last weekend staying warm and enjoying indoor activities as temperatures rose to -25 in the heat of the afternoon sunshine, Soldotna Rotarians and other businessmen gathered for an outdoor barbeque at the pond off of Marathon Rd. in Kenai.
It was no Polar Bear Festival that brought them outdoors, but rather an event started by the Club for the Peninsula Winter Games four years ago, "Heck this is the banana belt, out in Sterling it was 45 below this morning," said Jerry Near, trying to eat a hamburger hot off the grill before it froze. Near and Norm Blakeley got the idea of adding an ice sculpture event to the Peninsula Winter Games several years ago and enlisted the Soldotna Rotary Club's assistance in providing the ice. They started with an old chain saw and an EPA permits to cut ice out of Arc Lake. Since then Near has invented and constructed a device for holding a chain saw while cutting through 30 inches of ice.
Last year the City of Kenai stepped in and offered the pond behind the PRISM Fire Training Center for ice. "This year has been a pretty good season for making ice and we just measured this morning and it's about 22 inches thick and we've got about 20 people here from the Soldotna and Kenai Chambers of Commerce, private business people and some folks of course from the Soldotna and Kenai Rotary Clubs," said Near. The plan was to harvest some 40 blocks of ice weighing about 5,000 lbs. What motivated this group to turn out with in such temperatures, "It's the people, anyone who wants to come out at -27 and have a barbeque and this kind of fun on a Saturday, but more than anything it's so the kids and families can have those beautiful carvings to come and see during the Winter Games," said Robert Peterkin of R&K Industrial. Peterkin started two diesel front end loaders the day before, and let them run all night so they would be ready to lift the ice from the pond.
Getting the first block out is the hardest, "They have a bunch of guys with tools that pick up the front and I slide in the forks and pull her out," said Peterkin. At least that's the way it worked last year. This year posed some complications, but as the daylight was waning and mercury sliding even lower, the first block was broken free and hoisted to the waiting flatbed truck. Everyone will be able to enjoy the results of these hardy Alaskans at next weeks Peninsula Winter Games.
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