Winterfest seen through a lens

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend Warren County’s Winterfest as a pseudo-journalist/photographer with my friend Brian Collins, a reporter at the Times Observer. I agreed to tag along and help him take some pictures, since he was doing the Polar Bear Plunge and wouldn’t be able to take pictures from the frigid water.

I’ll admit, I mainly went to laugh at Brian and make fun of him while he turned himself into a giant popsicle.

I also wanted to check out the Winterfest because I’ve never gone before, and you know what, I enjoyed myself.

The first person we talked to on Saturday was Rick Boni, the chainsaw artist from Ridgway. First of all, Rick is an absolute master at his craft. We observed him for about 20 to 30 minutes and that was about all the time he needed to transform a stump into a bear. He was a great guy to talk to and how he ascertained his hobby is fascinating. He told us that one day he just wandered out into his yard with an electric saw and started carving. His first piece of art took him three days to complete, but it allowed him to discover is passion and launch his career as an artist. Now the man can carve a masterpiece in under an hour.

After our visit with Rick, we jumped to the other side of the lake and met some remarkable animals, and some pretty cool humans too. There wasn’t enough snow on the ground for sled dog races, but that didn’t stop the sled dogs from showing up. I was so impressed by the amount of energy and enthusiasm possessed by those Siberian Huskies, they’re like big fury wind up toys.

Whether it was the sled dog sprints, the canine weight pull, or just playing around and being cute, those animals were at full throttle 100 percent of the time.

The dog who caught my eye the most was a rambunctious fellow by the name of Whitey, a competitor in the canine weight pull. His owner carried him out to the sled track and hooked him to the sled, which provoked some intrigue, since all the other dogs walked out.

Well, take it from me, Whitey was no slouch, as soon as his paws touched the earth, he took off in a mad dash and easily pulled the sled past the mark all three times. The other dogs had to be coaxed into pulling the weight, but not Whitey, this little guy was born to run. They actually had to catch him and stop him after each pull.

It made me chuckle every time.

Finally, that brings me to the main event, the Polar Bear Plunge, where I had the cynical pleasure of witnessing Brian and around 100 other poor souls dive into the icy abyss.

Not only did I watch my friend, and a weary viking with a one horned helmet, dive into the water, I also observed Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, and Gene Simmons take the frosty plunge as well, courtesy of Northwest Savings Bank. I called out and requested a song, but apparently Mr. Simmons was unwilling to bring his axe into the water.

Luckily for them, the sun was out for most of the day and the weather was actually quite pleasant, but the outcome was still predictably cold when a crew of men and women in waterproof suits could be witnessed breaking up ice and clearing a spot for people to jump in the water. I give all of the participants a ton of credit though, they waded through bone chilling waters for a noble cause and entertained the massive crowd perched on the beach.

That’s worthy of a cup hot cocoa if you ask me.

Sometimes you never know what is located right in your backyard until you walk out the door and take a look.

I’m glad that I had a chance to attend, not only for the laughs, but also to take in some of the scenic beauty that this county has to offer. I haven’t been up to Chapman Dam in years and it was a worthwhile adventure.

When you live in Pennsylvania, what else would you rather be doing on a Saturday in January?