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Iconic ice climbing park opens to the public

Published: Jan. 14, 2021 at 6:11 PM CST
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WINONA, Minn. (WEAU) -

Crafting ice formations each year is a labor of love for ice farmers like Eric Barnard.

“I moved here from Southeastern Idaho with my family and we used to climb out in Colorado at the Ouray Ice Park, which is the largest manmade ice park in the world,” said Barnard. “[Our group] just looked at the terrain we had here in Winona and we started small with some pilot projects just kind of proof of concept and from there it’s grown.”

For their fifth year, volunteers have hiked up Winona’s Sugar Loaf bluff over the month of January creating and maintaining the Winona Ice Park, one out of four manmade ice climbing parks in the country and second in Minnesota.

“We run almost 2000 feet of hose off a nearby fire hydrant and that comes out to an infrastructure we have all along the top of the cliff that is a system of super low-volume shower heads,” said Barnard. “Those shower heads then will mist water down the bluff when we have optimum temperatures. Once we get the first layer of ice, it just starts to grow and grow.”

For volunteers like Rich Anthony, park maintenance is an everyday commitment.

“From running the water and managing the heads, we have to come out and check on it morning, evening, daytime,” said Anthony. “We want to make sure that it doesn’t freeze up, but it’s especially been challenging this year with the warmer weather.”

At about 600 feet above the City of Winona, the formations at the Winona Ice Park can be seen for miles.

“It’s a great asset to us, both for people’s mental health to get out and recreate, and for the City of Winona as an economic impact,” said Alicia Lano, City of Winona Outdoor Recreation Coordinator.

To take the roughly fifteen-minute hike up Sugar Loaf, visitors are asked to take precaution.

“You’ll want some kind of traction device on your boots or shoes, the trail can get a little slippery,” Lano said.

However, she says visitors enjoy what awaits at the top.

“On an average weekend, I’d say there’s probably at least 50 people per day,” added Lano.

“It’s an amazing thing,” Anthony said. “It’s amazing the partnership and support we get from the Winona Parks and Recreation Department.”

Although nobody gets paid, volunteers say it pays off when all can enjoy the wintertime amusement.

If you want to climb the ice park walls, there are guides in the Winona area that can help you.

The ice park typically remains open through mid-March.

To learn more about the Winona Ice Park, click here.

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