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This Winter: The Return of the Knickerbocker Ice Festival?

by Alicia Shannon
IceHouse replicaThe first Knickerbocker Ice Festival was held at Rockland Lake, in Valley Cottage, NY, in 2007. The festival wasn’t advertised, and yet 200 passerby showed up. It was hard to miss the 18 foot long, three ton ice house. Four years later, funds for the festival melted away. “Letting go of the festival was disappointing,” said Knickerbocker co-founder, Tim Englert, who is also a local filmmaker, wood worker and a history enthusiast. This year though, Englert and co-founder Rob Patalano, a local ice sculptor who runs Rockland Lake Ice Company’s ice carving business, aim to re-carve the once-beloved festival — albeit in more modest fashion: more celebration than festival.
Though the pair is optimistic, the fate of the festival isn’t entirely in their control. They need three things: approval from the Palisades Interstate Park Commission; $5,000 to fund one massive sculpture; and, well, winter – it’s impossible to overlook how important ice is for a good ice festival. “We’re aiming to launch in the first five to seven days of consecutive optimal weather — freezing temperatures — in February. Blizzard, wind, rain and sunshine are big enemies,” said Patalano. “I cannot accomplish the project without good weather.” 
What’s the project? If Englert and Patalano succeed in bringing back the winter celebration, Patalano will craft “phoenix rising,” a 30 ice-block sculpture of the mythical bird rising out of the ashes of an ice house. In the middle of the sculpture will be an enormous column of fire. The phoenix, to Patalano, is “a symbol of mother nature, rising from the ashes of the ice industry, reclaiming the area, free from future development; a gift for all to enjoy.” It’s an apt, if not grandiose, metaphor for the festival.
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The greater theme of the festival, though, will allude to the environment. In the spirit of the National Park Service, which turns 100 this year, the event will be “dedicated green” – Englert’s term – and will feature recycling, composting and sustainability. Englert, who works for Solar City will be donating one ice block to this and future festivals for every house that he turns solar.  The pair is currently nearing their first $1,000 in funding.  Englert hopes to attract further sponsorships.
“The festival will be a very back-to-basics affair,” Englert said. “We are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of Rockland Lake State Park through ‘phoenix rising’ (2015 was 50th), and will also be tipping our hat to the National Park Service, who were modeled after the PIPC when they were established in 1916. So a 50th and a 100th together.”
For Patalano the event is about community pride. “I want us all to be proud of our beautiful lake and its history, and come out to the lake to celebrate it. For me, it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I go there almost every day.”

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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