Spring comes early to Crystal Lake Winter Festival

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 3:09 pm on Monday, February 13, 2017

Crystal Township resident Shirley Pyle, left, accepts a cup of hot chili from Crystal Lake Winter Festival Committee Co-Chairwoman Deb Powell during Saturday’s chili cook-off competition. “It’s the best chili around,” Pyle said. — Daily News/Cory Smith

CRYSTAL TOWNSHIP— With temperatures cresting at 40 degrees and little evidence of snow on the ground, not many would have guessed Saturday was the time for a winter festival in the middle of February.

Fireworks explode high in the air Saturday evening, with lights from the blasts reflecting off of the frozen surface of Crystal Lake. — Daily News/Cory Smith

But despite the spring-like atmosphere, the eighth annual Crystal Lake Winter Festival brought hundreds of people together for a variety of activities, both on and off the frozen surface of Crystal Lake.

“We’ve hardly had any sun this winter and today is just a perfect day, and this festival, it brought people out for some fresh air,” said Deb Powell, co-chairwoman of the Winter Festival Committee. “Be it for the chili cook-off or sitting down by the fire at the beach, today was a good day for a lot of people.”

For 113 visitors, the day began before sunrise, as the fisher men and women ventured out onto Crystal Lake for the fishing derby.

Conditions were safe for the derby; however, earlier in the week, Crystal Township Fire Chief Scott Brundage determined the ice thickness of the frozen lake surface was not enough to hold the annual polar dip event.

At less than a foot in thickness, Brundage determined the potential size of the crowd that would gather to watch individuals plunge into the icy waters from the frozen surface could create a safety hazard.

“It’s unfortunate that the polar dip had to be cancelled, that was disappointing, but we still had a lot going on today,” Powell said. “It’s a perfect day. We didn’t need any heaters in the tents, and I’m here in a light jacket. We could have used more snow, but it’s February, go figure.”

With airplanes flying in and landing on the ice, and pilots receiving a free bowl of chili from the cook-off, there was plenty of spectacle on ice for visitors to enjoy.

Leah Osterman, 6, pets the pony she is riding during the 8th annual Crystal Lake Winter Festival on Saturday. — Daily News/Cory Smith

For Jammie Osterman, of Crystal, and her two grandchildren, Leah Osterman, 6, and Delilah McDonald, 5, the airplanes were a highlight of the festival. As they got an up-close look at three of the planes parked on the ice near the beach, a fourth plane hovered low before coming in for a landing.

“I had my grandkids with me, and I thought they’d really enjoy the day today,” Osterman said. “Last year, it was freezing out, but it’s wonderful today. They got to vote on their favorite snowmobile and watch the airplanes land. They’ve had a good time and got to be involved in quite a bit.”

Inside the Crystal Community Center, visitors took time to enjoy the festival’s craft show, where dozens of vendors congregated offering unique items and foods.

Pony rides were once again popular with children, and those who stayed until the conclusion of the festival were treated to a brief but mesmerizing fireworks show, with the best seat in the house being from center ice.

Bystanders watch and take photos and video of a plane taking off from the frozen surface of Crystal Lake on Saturday. — Daily News/Cory Smith

With each blast, the colors reflected directly off the icy and watery lake surface, resulting in a unique show of dazzling mirrored images.

“Everyone says there’s a lot of people in town, and people are really surprised at how many are out on the ice,” Powell said. “It’s just been a great day.”

Powell thanked the many individuals and businesses that volunteered time to make the festival happen.

“This year we’ve had a lot of volunteers help, and that’s what gets us through it, is the volunteers,” she said. “There’s only a few of us on the committee, but the businesses helped with selling tickets and working the raffles. These volunteers, they are what make the winter festival, the winter festival. We’re just one big happy community.”

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