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Crowds embrace best of winter at Sykesville Ice Festival

Crowds embrace best of winter at Sykesville Ice Festival (Jon Kelvey and Ulysses Munoz / BSMG)

Main Street Sykesville was thronged with people Saturday, the many faces rosy in the suitably chilly weather for the first Sykesville Ice Festival, which lined the street with more than 50 expertly engraved ice-block carvings, food vendors and an ice skating rink.

A disc jockey dropped beats, shops and restaurants did business, and Steve Colella, economic development coordinator for the Town of Sykesville, made his rounds, looking thrilled at how things had turned out.

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"Our rough estimate so far is about 4,000 to 5,000 people, so we are pretty stoked," Colella said. "This is the kind of turnout that someone who plans these types of events can only hope for."

A sweet smoky scent wafted in the air at the festival, the result of a wood-fired oven baking pizzas and a small metal fire pit, surrounded by families and their children holding speared marshmallows and toasting up s'mores. Families like those of Sykesville resident Lisa Frost, who brought her daughters, Hannah, 11, Amelia, 8, Charlotte, 7; and son, Gabriel, 3, to the festival. She was excited to have such a diverse family event going on in her own backyard.

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"We live here in the area, so we just walked down the hill," she said. "They do a great job here at Main Street with all of their events, and they learn each year, so it just gets better and better."

"It's really fun — we were ice skating and we've just been looking at the ice sculptures," Hannah said. "My favorite one is the Eiffel Tower because I love Paris."

The 51 ice sculptures, each representing a local business or organization, were created by the Baltimore-based Ice Lab through a process that took three weeks, according to Colella.

"Each sculpture was originally carved from a 300-pound block of ice, which means there are about 20,000 pounds of ice at this festival, making it one of the largest ice festivals in the region," he said. "They've been working tirelessly. They arrived here at 4 in the morning to start setting them up, and they finished right around 8:30 a.m., just in time for the festival to get started."

There were other ice attractions as well.

Elsa and Anna of "Frozen" fame sat with children for pictures on a frozen throne, while Brent Knipp, of Crofton, and his son, Landon, 7, played a game of cornhole made from thick tablets of ice.

"It's nice," Knipp said. "Interesting. Different."

Rebecca Bregman, 11, of Glenelg, was decisive about her favorite part of the festival.

"The monkey!" she said, referring to a simian-shaped ice sculpture. "It's really cool. It's like really well-designed and it's really fun to pose with."

Rebecca had come to the festival with the Preston family: Julia, 9, Amanda, 13, and their mother, Melissa.

"It's been a blast. There are a lot of people here, the weather's great, they have a skating rink," Melissa Preston said. "Everybody has come out for fun."

As economic development coordinator, Colella said, it was great to see businesses getting attention, but he was equally thrilled to see so many people from Sykesville and further afield come out to Main Street.

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"One of the things we set out to do when we started planning this event was provide not just a great opportunity for the businesses, but a great opportunity for the community to come out and enjoy themselves in a time of year that is typically slower, when people have a little bit of cabin fever," Colella said. "You know two weeks ago we just had a big blizzard and people were snowed in, so it's great to see this many people out and about."

A key attraction of the festival, a synthetic ice skating rink that sat in the center of the street next to the DJ, almost didn't happen, Colella said.

"The ice rink is something that we thought long and hard about, whether we wanted to bring it this first year or whether we wanted to leave it for an event further down the road," he said. "I think you can probably tell by the line of people that's wrapped all the way around it waiting to get on the ice rink that we made the right decision bringing it out this year."

The rink didn't use real ice, Colella said, because Sykesville's Main Street is technically a state highway, meaning there are rules about what you can put on its surface and how long it can be closed to traffic. But the many skaters who gave it a try did not seem to mind.

"Unfortunately, a real ice rink was not in the cards, but if this year's synthetic ice rink is any indication, a bigger synthetic ice rink for next year might be on our list of things to do," Colella said.

Gauging from the response from the public, Colella said he can only imagine the Ice Festival growing better in every way next year and in years to come.

"It's been a big undertaking, and we couldn't be prouder of the volunteers, the companies that we've worked with and everyone involved," he said. "We're looking forward to learning a lot from this year and making next year even bigger and better."

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