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Detroit Lakes begins harvesting ice for Ice Palace

Dozens of volunteers in DL are beginning the "Ice Harvest." All in preparation for the building of the Ice Palace on the lake.

The ice harvested will be used to build the Ice Palace for the city's PolarFest.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News
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DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — In sub-zero temps, volunteers gathered Thursday, Jan. 20, to begin the build. Volunteers used a huge saw, along with a chain saw, to gather chunks of ice in preparation for the massive effort to build the Ice Palace.

It looked like a small city on the frozen lake.

"We're going to have about 2,000 blocks that we're taking out this year," said volunteer Scott Walz.

The volunteers float the ice down a grid of open water, then the massive blocks are either hooked, grabbed and loaded, or run up a classic conveyor system.

"There's an art and science to it, that's for sure," Walz said. "The blocks are probably about 500 to 600 pounds a piece. They are 22 inches wide by 44 inches long and they are about 20 inches deep, it looks like, for the thickness of the ice."


"We just have a blast with everybody that involved in it," said volunteer Hans Gilsdorf. "It's such a great time and it's such a great thing for the community that we get fired up for it."

In the 1930s, ice was big business in Becker County, second only to timber. Some winters the area shipped out 200,000 tons of ice.

For the Detroit Lakes area, it was a money maker. Trains would pick up the ice and ship the chunks across the country.

"For a lot of the farmers (and) a lot of people that were unemployed, this was their winter job," Gilsdorf said. "For us, we do it for the fun (and) the benefit of the community. The first thing (that) comes to my mind is what they had for clothing (back then), compared to what we have. With hand warmers, toe warmers, there is no reason for us to complain, because wow, we've got state of the art in comparison."

At night, the ice field will be roped off and, like the old pioneer days, lanterns will line and light the open water.

There will be a citywide lighting of the Ice Palace on Friday, Feb. 11 as part of the city's weeklong PolarFest 2022.

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