Niles Ice Festival debuts new look amidst the pandemic

NILES, Mich. - Niles' annual Ice Festival consumed downtown this weekend, but with a bit of a different look than in years past. The pandemic played a role in organizers limiting the number of sculptures, spreading out the sculptures more and closing 2nd Street. The yearly festival decorates downtown Niles with what is normally more than 100 ice sculptures of animals, superheroes and furniture. 2021's festival had 20 to 25 sculptures, but still invited the community to tour downtown to see them. 

"I've always worked the weekends," Yours Truly Studio owner Erika Meller said. "So, I've never been here during the whole festival, but it seemed like a lot of people are out looking at the local businesses. So, that's pretty cool to see, especially after the past year we've had. 

Meller said the festival brought a sense of normalcy back to downtown. Kaylee Barnes, a regular festival-goer, said the pandemic took away some of her favorite parts including the sheer number of sculptures. 

"Yeah, there's around 20 or 25," Barnes said. "There's usually at least 100 which is sad because they're so cool to see, and they take so much time and effort just for everyone to come and see how pretty they are." 

Organizers closed 2nd Street in downtown to make more room for people to walk by the sculptures. A fire pit and benches were brought in and placed there this year. Carrie McKay has been coming to the festival for the last 12 years. She said some of her favorite parts were gone this year, but her biggest draw was still there. 

"People get together," McKay said. "The community comes out, and everyone talks. I like it." 

McKay said even though some parts were gone, the festival still brought out her enthusiasm. 

"I walked around," McKay said. "There's still people coming out and looking at it. So, that's good. I love it. People love to come out. I miss the music. I miss the fun, but it's still here so come see." 

Erika Meller said she's always been disappointed to see pranksters destroy the sculptures bringing the festival to an early end, but she was happy to see very few people trying to do that. She said she thinks that is related to the pandemic also. She felt the pandemic has made people appreciate the festival more. 

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