10th annual event keeps evolving

The 10th Meltdown Winter Ice Festival has exceeded local expectations, and even landed on a national list of the best winter festivals.

Volunteers initially understood that their commitment in 2014 — providing the community a reason to get out of their homes in January — would be short-lived.

However, enthusiasm and financial support are still strong, so the festival has continued beyond its initial goal of a few years.

“The Richmond community and surrounding area really showed an interest and desire for it to continue,” said Monica Koechlein, who serves on the steering committee.

She credits Meltdown’s survival to at least three factors:

  • Financial support from businesses and grants
  • Organizations and businesses offering complementary events such as live music and children’s activities that continue to make the festival exciting
  • Volunteers who donate hundreds of hours for planning, preparing and hosting the events

The festival has no paid staff. Many of the steering committee members work for various organizations that want to offer in-kind support.

They believe that the festival helps make Richmond an attractive place to be, both increasing pride for residents and luring visitors.

Thus, marketing materials include various happenings, such as the already-planned Richmond Symphony Orchestra and Richmond Civic Theatre performances, so visitors can learn more about local amenities.

“We give them a taste of what Richmond offers and why they might want to come back,” Koechlein said.

Organizers are pleased that the festival now has been named one of the nation’s 10 best winter festivals, an honor for which the city can be proud, Koechlein said.

The honor can be found at TimeOut.com and ranks Richmond’s event among others from around the country including the World Snow Sculpting Championships in Stillwater, Minnesota, and the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge, Colorado.

This year, six creative professional carvers — five men and one woman — from around the country will be based at Elstro Plaza, 47 N. Sixth St. in Richmond.

They are Aaric Kenall of Argenta, Illinois; Dean DeMarais of Fate, Texas; Harvey Russell of St. Louis; Sammy Moore of Elkhart, Indiana; Danny Bloss of Niles, Michigan; and Andrew Thistlethwaite of San Antonio, Texas, who has family ties to Richmond.

Area residents are invited to watch the carvers in action and chat with them throughout the week.

Live carving is scheduled for Friday night, an opportunity to watch in a more relaxed setting than Saturday’s ice fight. That’s when carvers compete on the plaza’s stage and the crowd cheers for their favorite team.

Organizers have coordinated programs for all ages throughout the week, ranging from children-focused activities and school tours to a carver’s appearance for assisted living residents of The Leland Legacy. (And the Chili for Charity event originally planned for Jan. 25 has been postponed until Feb. 1 because of expected heavy snow).

Expanding community engagement is key to Meltdown’s longevity.

Melty the Moose mascot debuted last year and plans to make community appearances this week to promote the festival.

Although activities were scaled back during the pandemic, the Meltdown continued in 2021 in a drive-thru format. Guests were encouraged to drive by or see the sculptures on foot.

Koechlein said organizers realize how important it still is to offer spectators the opportunity to enjoy the sculptures from the comfort of their vehicles during January’s chilly temperatures. At least 80% will be directly visible from the road.

“We’ve created an opportunity and we’re asking people to engage and create their own experience,” Koechlein said.

Those who enjoy the festival can send gifts of any amount in care of Main Street Richmond, 814 E. Main St., Richmond, IN 47374.

Contributions should be marked as intended for the Meltdown.

Find an updated list of community events and updates online at richmondmeltdown.com and “Richmond Meltdown” on Facebook.


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Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.