LEWISBURG — In the dead of winter, few towns are as alive as Lewisburg will be this weekend for its ninth annual Heart of Lewisburg Ice Festival.

Tere Rill, executive director of Lewisburg Downtown Partnership, lauds the participating merchants and sponsors for the event’s yearly success.

“It’s really special that the merchants come together and work together for the community,” she said.

Their donations allow the LDP to purchase the sculptures — and this year, there will be more than ever. Thirty-five ice sculptures, big and small, will be located in Hufnagle Park and outside various shops throughout the downtown.

New this year will be a large dragon in Hufnagle Park, sponsored by Evangelical Community Hospital. Visitors are encouraged to take their photos with it and submit them on social media with the hashtag #LDPIceFestival. LDP will then choose their favorite, with the winner receiving a gift certificate.

Also in the park will be an ice sculpture in the form of a wishing well, sponsored by Weis Markets. People are encouraged to drop in their coins. All the money collected will go to local food banks.

Another new sculpture is being called the “Candle of Love.” People are encouraged to submit names in memory of or in honor of a loved one. Names will be read at 7 p.m. Friday in front of the candle ice sculpture, located on the corner of Third and Market, near the shops which sponsored it — Taste Craft and the Mercantile.

A large ice sculpture of a throne will be located at the other end of Market Street, across the street from the Lewisburg Hotel, sponsored by the hotel, Cole’s Hardware and All About Me. Visitors are encouraged to sit on the throne and get their photos taken.

And then of course there will be the traditional large bison ice sculpture in front of the post office, sponsored by Bucknell University.

“We’re in the winter doldrums, and I think this is exciting to get out and especially watch the sculptor create some of these sculptures,” Rill said.

According to Rick Bryant, executive director of Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in State College — which has been assisting with the Lewisburg Ice Festival since its inception — Jared McAlister, of Jeannette, is the man behind the masterpieces.

With the help of a Clinebell machine, a crystal clear, 265-pound block of ice is created as his canvas. To create art out of such a medium takes skill, Bryant said.

“You have to have a good knowledge of three-dimensional space,” he said.

McAlister will carve about 20 blocks of ice on site. Most of the sculptures change from year to year.

While Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts produces a First Night State College every Dec. 31, which includes ice sculptures, Bryan said the Lewisburg Ice Festival is unique in that it is centered on the sculptures.

“I think downtown Lewisburg is great,” he added. “Everybody who comes out for the festival seems like they have a great time.”

Shops throughout the downtown will be participating in one way or another — whether offering deals through the special 15 percent discount offered in the Ice Festival Program, or like Brushstrokes Gallery Art Supplies and Framing, holding a traditional event.

Their Warm Your Heart fundraiser includes collecting donated items and monetary donations for local animal shelters and rescues.

According to co-owner Kathy Snyder, they’ve been holding the fundraiser since 2009, and last year hit the $10,000 mark of money raised. Many also contribute items on the rescues’ wish lists or for a $25 donation purchase one of the animal paintings done by the artists who work at Brushstrokes.

To draw attention to the cause, a dog or cat ice sculpture will be located outside their door.

The cause is near and dear to the Snyders’ hearts, since they love to rescue animals and have had several “shop dogs” that hung out at the store.

“As a small business, you can’t do everything, or donate to everything,” Snyder said. “This is my thing. This is what’s important to me.”

The Ice Festival, she said, continues to be a favorite event of hers each year.

“I love the way people come down no matter what the weather,” she said. “It’s just a fun event in the winter when things aren’t so exciting.”

The weekend will also include Bucknell students presenting “A Capella on Ice” at the Campus Theatre on Friday at 5:30 p.m., an annual chocolate festival to benefit the Donald L. Heiter Community Center on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Lewisburg Hotel, and the Sunset Rotary will host children’s games in Hufnagle Park and the annual Frosty 5K, both on Saturday as well.

Starting at 7 p.m. Saturday, the 18th annual Chocolate Festival to benefit the Donald L. Heiter Community Center kicks off at the Lewisburg Hotel.

The gala event includes hor dourves, open bar, chocolate fondue station, chocolate comparison station of chocolates from around the world, gourmet cheese station, cocoa and chocolate bar, professional chocolate display, silent auction and lots of dancing with music provided by DJ Chad Evans. Tickets are $75 each.

“This is our biggest fundraising event of the year, and it is a vital part of what keeps us afloat,” said Donald Heiter Community Center director Andrea Tufo. “All proceeds from this event go towards our programming, especially the after-school and summer camp programs. It allows us to make a difference all year long for kids and families in our community.”

One normally annual event, however, has been canceled this year due to dangerous river conditions. According to Rill, the Polar Bear Plunge will not take place at the advice of local emergency officials.

But in spite of that setback, if social media is any indication, Rill said as long as the weather holds out, they’re expecting thousands of people to descend on the downtown to take part in the various activities. Foot traffic continues to grow each year.

“It really is a community event that I think everybody should be proud of,” Rill said.

And even though it’s the season of unpredictable weather patterns, the event has never had to be canceled.

“I’ve been watching the weather every single day,” Rill said. “You want it to be nice weather so people feel comfortable coming down. But you don’t want it to be too warm so the ice melts before they walk down Market Street.

“But we have no control over the weather,” she laughed.

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