It started more than two weeks ago as the mercury hovered well below the zero mark and Soldotna Rotarians gathered at River Bend Lake off Beaver Loop Rd. for their annual fishing for ice ritual. It was an idea of Jerry Near, Norm Blakeley, and John Torgerson, to add a signature ice sculpture event to the annual Peninsula Winter Games that were started 35 years ago by Sterling missionary Al York. This inspiration led to the invention of the chainsaw powered "Near Ice Fishing Jig," a machine intended to harvest ice cubes, not fish. These are ice cubes weighing nearly two tons each. "It required some technology modifications. Chainsaws were never designed to be used for what we use them for, so we designed a cutting jig to hold the saw with a remote throttle and ability to adjust the cutting depth according to the thickness of the ice," explained Near. In years past the open water has been used for polar plunges to raise funds for Rotary International's fight to eliminate polio worldwide. "It's become a fun club project over the last 10 years and this year at our new location it only took 20 breakfast sausages, 15 hamburgers, and a half dozen hot dogs to move over 100 tons of ice out of the pond and to 20 different locations," said Allan Auxier, Soldotna Rotary president.
Professional carvers like Scott Hansen and John Iverson then fired up their chainsaws to transform those two-ton ice cubes into beautiful and humorous works of art. "We get to do some really nice stuff in these big chunks of ice that isn't possible with wood sometimes. The ice is really nice this year, thick and crystal clear. Polar bears and penguins were popular this year and we take anything the business requests and draw it up then carve it in my head several times before I come out here and crank up the saw," said Scott Hansen, a world renowned wood carver from Sterling. "We plan for the melt down as well, so that they will last and look nice all winter," he said. The carvers also used the ice to create huge ice slides for the Peninsula Winter Games. According to January Yaeger of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, there are 18 finished sculptures at locations from the Kenai Airport to the Soldotna Dairy Queen and everywhere in between. "We have punch cards available at the Chamber office and you can stop by each location that has an ice sculpture and get it punched. Then when your card is punched full, you can enter it in a drawing to win prizes including airline tickets from ERA Aviation," explained Yaeger. Visit www.peninsulaclarion.com for photos and coverage of the Peninsula Winter Games.
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