You have three choices when winter arrives in the Midwest: Leave for a warmer climate, become a couch potato, or bundle up and head outdoors for some fresh air and fun. In Argenta, Illinois, located near Decatur, one day is especially popular for winter fun. That’s the day of the Argenta IceFest.
When we were in Richmond, Indiana, for the Meltdown Ice Festival in January, we met Aaric Kendall, Olympic gold medal ice carver. Aaric hails from Argenta, and he suggested we come down for the February Agenta IceFest, which includes events in both the town’s Prairie Park and downtown. Among the events are ice carving demonstrations, a chili cook-off, food vendors, craft show, and a beer-wine tent.
Prairie Park Ice Carvings
Ice carvings, sponsored by area businesses, line the walkways in Prairie Park. In the tennis court are games made of ice, including a checkerboard and a bean bag game. Food is available in the pavilion, and ice carvers demonstrate their skill throughout the park. We watched as one carver sculpted a castle, using several blocks of ice. The video at the top of this page shows the progress from the beginning of the sculpture until he is beginning to put the final touches on the castle.
Downtown Argenta IceFest Events
Before the ice castle was finished, we headed downtown, where Aaric Kendall explained ice carving. Sculptures start with 300-pound blocks of ice. Made especially for carving, it takes three to four days to create the ice, with water constantly running over it to keep it clear. Most of the time, carvers cut the blocks apart and rearrange them in their sculptures. In fact, in competitions you win points by tearing the blocks of ice apart and building it into a sculpture that’s bigger than the size and shape of the initial block. The largest sculpture Aaric ever worked on was in Fairbanks, Alaska. The sculpture of a lighted archway with a fairy in the center weighed 50,000 pounds, was 32 feet tall and took four carvers five days to create.
As Aaric went back to carving, we walked over to the wine and beer tent and enjoyed a glass of wine from the Willow Ridge Winery. We were too late for the chili cook-off, but one of the local establishments was serving barbecue sandwiches. We found an open table in the crowded bar and enjoyed both the warm respite from the cold outdoor air and the deliciously smoky brisket and bologna.
I admit, we were apprehensive about heading out into the cold for the festival, but we were both glad we did. Embracing winter with a festival is a lot more fun than hibernating in the house.
Argenta IceFest Details
Argenta is located off of I-72 on IL Route 48, about 160 miles south of Chicago and 150 miles northwest of St. Louis. The 2020 Argenta IceFest is scheduled for February 8 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Find details on the Argenta IceFest website.