While many folks were watching the ceremonial start of the T-200 Dog Sled race in Kenai, a few miles away, Soldotna Rotarians and community volunteers were braving the sub-zero temperatures to do a little fishing for ice.
The goal of the group was to harvest some 30-40 tons of ice for the second annual ice carving competition at the Peninsula Winter Games. Quality carving ice is not as easy to get in Alaska as one might think. Even with the cold winter temperatures this year, the ice was not as thick as it was last year. There are many variables according to Jerry Near, who has spearheaded the ice-harvesting project for the last two years.
"We actually have a foot thinner ice this year then we did last year. The early snow insulated the ice from freezing deep, then the warm spell we had followed by rain and more snow and cold temperatures kind of messed up our ice," said Near. The organic activity in the lake also affects the clarity of the ice causing oxygen bubbles. Near has even created new technology for the harvesting process by inventing an ice-cutting jig. A chain saw is mounted on the jig and all the operator has to do is slide it along a straight line.
"The best part of this project is the way the community has gotten behind it. We had some obstacles this year, but any one we asked for help was willing to do whatever it took to get the job done. Hotels are providing accommodations for the out of town carvers and it seems like everybody has helped out in one way or another," added Near.
There will be eight teams competing for $5,000 in prizes in the ice carving competition this year. Phillips has sponsored the prize money this year. The judging will be done by the sculptors, with one award for the "Peoples Choice" which will be selected by any visitor who wishes to vote for their favorite sculpture. The 1st place award will be worth $1,500, 2nd $1,000, 3rd $750, 4th $500, and $250 for 5th place. The winner of the Peoples Choice award will take home an additional $1,000.
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