BELFAST, Maine — When organizers of the Belfast Ice Festival wanted to make the event a little more special by giving it a signature event, they decided to go big.
“Not everybody has a ski mountain, so what could we do?” Zach Schmesser, the director of Our Town Belfast, said Wednesday. “There isn’t a state of Maine Ice Carving Championship anywhere else. So we made it official.”
That means spectators will be able to watch on Saturday, Feb. 26, as up to 10 carvers, some in teams, take a block of ice and see what they can do to it. The event will take place in an empty lot at the corner of Cross and Main streets downtown, and the sculptures will be judged by three people, including Bouchard and Belfast Mayor Eric Sanders.
They’re competing for glory as well as prizes that have yet to be determined, Schmesser said. But he is sure the event will be fun.
“It’s completely open-ended. Folks provide their own tools, and everyone who has signed up has indicated that they’re an amateur, which is great,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see what’s created from this.”
But that’s only part of the festivities.
In addition to the ice sculptures, ice bars and luminaries along a popular walking trail will all be featured in the second annual Belfast Ice Festival and first-ever State of Maine Ice Carving Championship, to be held from Friday, Feb. 25 to Sunday, Feb. 27.
On Friday night, those who have purchased tickets in advance can check out “Tastes of Belfast,” the festival’s kickoff event, which will spotlight food made in Belfast and prepared by Belfast restaurants. The featured ingredients? Potatoes from Penobscot McCrum and smoked salmon from Ducktrap River of Maine.
“It’s a way to highlight those items,” Schmesser said.
On Saturday, there will be more events, including horse and carriage rides, a free showing of the movie “Ice Age” at the Colonial Theatre, an ice bar at Delvino’s Grill and Pasta House and a “Magical Luminary Trail” on a portion of the Belfast Rail Trail. A guided excursion will leave at 6 p.m. from the Belfast Armistice Bridge, with participants asked to wear footwear that correlates to whatever the weather conditions might be.
Schmesser said that despite uncooperative weather conditions, last year’s inaugural ice festival was a big success. Crowds of people watched in the rain as ice carver Jesse Bouchard of Raymond used power tools to turn 300-pound blocks of ice into sculptures.
“Despite the horrible weather, we had a ton of people downtown for that,” Schmesser said. “People were just looking for ways to get out of the house. When it was all done, we decided we needed to do it again.”
Although the festival is still more than a week away, so far the forecast seems promising, Schmesser said.
“Right now, the weather looks great for this — right around freezing and overcast, so hopefully the sculptures will stick around longer,” he said.