DeKALB – As the Winter Olympics get into full swing this weekend in South Korea, Bill Ryder will bring some of those sports to the area.
Ryder, superintendent of recreation at the DeKalb Park District, has been planning and organizing ways community members can try Winter Olympic sports and activities without having to travel to Pyeongchang.
The DeKalb Park District will host its fourth annual PolarPalooza Winter Festival from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at Hopkins Park, 1403 Sycamore Road in DeKalb.
The event is free, but the park district will be accepting dog supply items that will be donated to Raven’s Husky Haven & Rescue, a local husky rescue facility. Example items to donate include Nature’s Recipe dog food, puzzle toys, Kongs and other “indestructible” toys, laundry detergent and paper towels.
For a full list of times of the events and activities and to stay up-to-date on possible weather cancellation, visit the DeKalb Park District’s website, www.dekalbparkdistrict.com.
Ryder met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss PolarPalooza and what to expect during the free winter festival.
Milton: Tell me more about what will be at PolarPalooza.
Ryder: It’s a Winter Olympics year, so we have some cross-country skiing and curling this year. There will also be hockey and figure skating demonstrations, and you can either bring your own skates or rent them from our trailer. Lyn Bute, a snow sculptor from Sycamore, will carve Diesel, NIU’s former Husky mascot. There will be a snowman-building contest, but just the head, so people can add noses and scarves and eyes, snowshoeing, a scavenger hunt outdoors for landmarks in the park, a birdwatching tour and North Central Cyclery will bring their Fat Tire bikes. We will have a schedule of events and we will make announcements over the loudspeaker throughout the day. We’ll play music and have hay by the ice and hockey rinks so people can sit, relax and watch the skating and demonstrations.
Milton: Will there be any indoor activities?
Ryder: The community center will act as a warming center. There will be free hot cocoa and you can roast s’mores outside. Overall, there will be a little bit of eating, snacks and outdoor activities, or you can just take a walk in the park and get some exercise. We will also have PolarPalooza mascots, including a snowman and a penguin, walking around, and children and families can pose for photos with them as a photo opportunity.
Milton: Where will the event be held?
Ryder: The event will be held at Hopkins Park, and we will fill the north parking lot next to the pool with ice for skating. During the first year, the event was held at Lion’s Park, with shuttles back and forth to the golf course. We needed a new venue when the park was under construction. Now the event is at Hopkins Park. In the future, we plan on adding a sled hill and incorporating that into the event as well.
Milton: Why does the park district host the event every year?
Ryder: Not many families do winter activities because of the weather. PolarPalooza is an opportunity to utilize our park district facilities and provide a fun and free family outing for the community. At the park district, we love to create wholesome family activities that provide recreation opportunities. PolarPalooza is out in nature, offering new experiences and a chance to try new activities. You can be active and ski or ice skate, or you can be more passive and take a leisurely walk or participate in the birdwatching tour.
Milton: How did PolarPalooza get its start?
Ryder: We have events throughout the year, like the kite fest and events for Fourth of July and Memorial Day, but most of them are during the summer. We felt like something was missing, so we created a winter festival. We love introducing people to unusual or nontraditional activities, like curling or snowshoeing. Some people never tried these activities. I remember one year, a little girl never skated before. After putting on her skates, she went around shooting hockey pucks and had a great time. They had a hard time getting her off the ice.
Milton: Do sponsors and volunteers help with the event?
Ryder: Different sponsors help lead different events, and our main sponsor is Illini Security. We like to involve our sponsors, and they help judge or lead activities. Park district staff plan and organize the event every year and are volunteers. Sororities and volunteers from NIU help every year, too. We couldn’t hold the event without everyone’s help.
Milton: Is the event dependent on the weather?
Ryder: It definitely is weather-related. The event is focused around ice and snow, and if we don’t have those two things and it’s not cold, we can’t really have the event. This is our fourth annual event, but due to warm weather, we had to cancel the event last year. During our second year, we had a warm weekend, so we moved it to the next weekend. The best way to know if there are any cancellations is to check the park district’s website.