WINONA, Min. (WLAX/WEUX) – An iconic ice climbing park is now open for the season, now in its fifth year. First News at Nine’s David LaClair talked today with crafters behind making this Minnesota winter tradition possible.
Crafting ice formations each year is a labor of love for ice farmers like Eric Barnard.
Eric Barnard, Recreation Alliance of Winona President, said, “I moved here from southeastern Idaho with my family and we used to climb out in Colorado at the Ouray Ice Park, which is the largest manmade ice park in the world. So we just looked at the terrain we had here in Winona and we started small with some pilot projects just kind of proof of concept and from there it’s grown.
For their fifth year, volunteers have hiked up Winona’s Sugar Loaf Bluff over the month of January creating and maintaining the Winona Ice Park, one out of four manmade ice climbing parks in the country and second in Minnesota.
“We run almost 2000 feet of hose, and that comes out to an infrastructure we have all along the top of the cliff that is a system of super low-volume showerheads. Those shower heads then will mist water down the bluff when we have optimum temperatures. Once we get the first layer of ice, it just starts to grow and grow,” said Barnard.
For volunteers like Rich Anthony, park maintenance is an everyday commitment.
“From running the water and managing the heads, we have to come out and check on it morning, evening, daytime. We want to make sure that it doesn’t freeze up, but it’s especially been challenging this year with the warmer weather,” said Anthony.
At about 600 feet above the city of Winona, these formations at the Winona Ice Park can be seen for miles.
Alicia Lano, City of Winona Outdoor Recreation Coordinator said, “It’s a great asset to us, both for people’s mental health to get out and recreate and for the city of Winona as an economic impact.
To take the roughly fifteen-minute hike up Sugar Loaf, visitors are asked to take precaution.
“You’ll want some kind of traction device on your boots or shoes, the trail can get a little slippery,” said Lano.
However, Alicia Lano says visitors enjoy what awaits at the top.
On an average weekend, I’d say there’s probably at least 50 people per day.
“It’s an amazing thing, and it’s amazing the partnership and support we get from the Winona Park and Rec Department,” said Anthony.
Although no one gets paid, volunteers say it pays off when all can enjoy the wintertime amusement.
In Winona, David LaClair, First News at Nine.
If you want to climb the ice park walls, there are guides in the Winona area that can help you. The ice park typically remains open through mid-March.