CRYSTAL — Zooming across the white, powdery desert of snow upon Crystal Lake, Ben Clevenger was having the time of his life.
The Stanton resident, sitting atop his classic 1972 Snow Pony vintage snowmobile, was one of dozens of snowmobilers who brought their sleds to Crystal Lake Saturday during the Crystal Lake Winter Festival, speeding on the frozen tundra with nothing but miles of fresh snow and solid ice to enjoy as a driving surface.
“You can’t beat the ride of a vintage sled,” Clevenger said of his yellow and black antique sled. “You have to know how to work it. You have to lean and drag your leg.”
During a second consecutive mild winter, Clevenger said the chances to get outside and ride have been few and far between, but conditions on Saturday were ideal for hours of riding from one end of the lake to the other.
“On the lake, for this, the conditions have been great, but anywhere else there really isn’t enough snow on the ground,” he said.
Clevenger had been to the festival previously in 2011 and with a hiatus last winter because of warm weather conditions, he was one of hundreds of patrons who were glad to see the festival return this year.
With horse-drawn carriage rides, Alaskan snow-dog sled rides, a frigid polar dip, chili cook-off and other fun winter activities, this year’s festival was a success, according to Festival Chairwoman Pam Greenhoe.
“I think the festival has gone wonderfully,” Greenhoe said. “The weather cooperated with us, we had some new events and it was just great.”
Greenhoe said she would have liked to have seen a little higher participation in some of the festival events, but was still happy with the total turnout on the day.
“I know there were other festivals going on this weekend as well, but all-in-all, I think we provided exactly what we intended,” she said. “This was all a part of brining people into the Crystal area and I think we accomplished that today.”
Greenhoe added that not a single event had to be cancelled, but one day in either direction, and things could have turned out much differently.
“That’s the icing on the cake,” she said. “All of that arctic weather we had this past week, it came at the perfect time. The festival was a hit.”
For Crystal resident Marilyn Rees and her husband, Ben, the festival offered a chance to step back in time and share memories from their past with their three grandchildren.
Colin Harrison, 6, his brother, Ryan Harrison, 4, and their cousin, Emily Rees, 2, all of Greenville, had never witnessed sledding dogs in action before.
But Marilyn and Ben grew up raising six sled dogs, never to race them, but more as a hobby.
This year’s Crystal Lake Winter Festival offered a chance for the grandparents and grandchildren to connect, as the three children were carried by four sled dogs around a circular course at Crystal Township Park.
After their first ride together, Ryan and Emily begged to stay on for another race.
“They’ve been talking about it the entire trip over here,” Marilyn said. “They just couldn’t understand how a dog could pull a sled. Now that the’ve done it, they just want to do it again and again. We’re having a lot of fun.”
At 3 p.m. near the public dock at Crystal Lake, the signature event of the festival, the Polar Dip, took place.
Several dozen brave souls took the plunge into the icy waters as the Crystal Township Fire Department supervised.
For Crystal resident Jen Rios, the jump was a chance to cross an item off of her own bucket-list.
“It was a once in a lifetime thing and it was unbelievably cold,” she said.
10-year-old Payton Pena, of Bath, said she wanted to try new things, which for her meant jumping into the ice-cold waters of the lake.
“It was really cold, it felt like I was in one giant ice cube,” she said.
Proceeds from the event went to aid the Crystal Township Fire Department in purchasing new rescue equipment, something Pena said was very important to her as she raised $111 for the department.
“I wanted the fire department to be able to save more people,” she said. “I think more equipment will help them to be able to do that.”
As things began to wind down and the sun neared the horizon, babysitter Sarah Heckman of Pewamo could not get the two sisters she had brought to the festival, Charlie Miller, 5, and Stevie Miller, 3, of Muir, to leave the sledding hill at Crystal Township Park.
The two girls rode down the hill together on a sled, time and time again, never boring from the activity.
“They just don’t wan’t leave,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of fun, but it’s this little sledding hill that has had them the most entertained,” she said.
With the day concluding with a sky lantern launch and fireworks show, Greenhoe said she’s excited at the prospect of preparing for next year’s festival again with the Crystal Township Downtown Development Authority, hoping to come up with new activities for everyone to enjoy.
“It was just a great day and I hope everyone had an enjoyable time,” she said.