By K. Woodzick (Photos by Dan Dumas)
One of the most prominent winter attractions in Eagle River is the Ice Castle. Proudly standing as a centerpiece downtown, this frozen monument dazzles thousands of locals and tourists each year—weather permitting.
On January 18th, the Eagle River Area Fire Department announced that the Ice Castle will not be built this year. The Department has been carefully monitoring the weather conditions at Silver Lake to determine if the ice harvesting process would be possible. Though the announcement is disappointing, safety for the volunteers must be prioritized.
The weather this winter has been challenging for many outdoor activities. Snowmobile trails in Oneida County have yet to open, due to the lack of snow. The last time the Ice Castle was built was in 2018. It is necessary for the ice thickness to be between 12 and 17 inches for safety measures as well as ease of construction.
In previous years, the Eagle River Area Fire Department has volunteered over 700 hours of their time to cut 2,300 ice blocks that are 12 inches thick. The 70-pound blocks are then transported the build site in Downtown Eagle River to create the Ice Castle early each new year. Colored lights are carefully placed to illuminate the castle and create the perfect ambiance for taking photographs at night.
This Eagle River tradition dates back to 1933. The first Ice Castle was located across the street from Moccasin Shop & Gifts. Over the past 90 years, the location and design of the castle have evolved. In 1942, Charles Hanke of C. H. Hanke Ice Company provided the ice and helped to design the castle. The design of the castle stayed in the Hanke family for decades, and volunteers still use the ice saw and conveyor system that supported the creation of some of the earliest castles.
In the middle of the last century, the Eagle River Lions Club helped to lead this community project and the Eagle River Area Fire Department became its stewards in the mid-80s. In the years where the weather is favorable to building the castle, local businesses contribute financially and with donations of food and beverages to fuel the volunteers. The estimated construction time for the castle is over 1,000 hours.
It is estimated that the Ice Castle draws over 30,000 visitors to the area. Guests visit many local restaurants, hotels and resorts. Eagle River residents and tourists alike hope that Mother Nature will provide the weather conditions needed to build this area treasure in early 2022.
Learn more about the history of the Ice Castle by visiting the Eagle River Chamber of Commerce.