Rockland Lake State Park marks 50 years with partial revival of Knickerbocker Ice Festival

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BY JENNA HUTCHINS

PHOTOS BY JOSEPH CONSOLI

ice1 ice2 ice3 ice4A few thousand turned out this past weekend to celebrate Rockland Lake State Park’s 50th anniversary and witness the potential revival of the Knickerbocker Ice Festival.

The festival began in 2007 on the eastern bank of Rockland Lake celebrating the lake’s role in the history of the Knickerbocker Ice Company, once the main provider of ice to New York City and other markets in the 19th century. The lake was known for harvesting the cleanest ice in the region. At the festivals, world-class ice sculptors were invited to make displays for the tens of thousands of spectators.

This year’s modest affair signified a new beginning for the event, which hadn’t been held since 2012. According to the festival’s two founders, Timothy Englert and Robert Patalano, funding for the event dried up as the economy failed to revive as expected, making it difficult to continue. “Nobody was giving money, so as much as we wanted to continue, we managed to last another three whole years,” said Englert. “We were all spending our personal funds.”

The face of the duo’s comeback was a 6-foot-tall sculpture of a phoenix rising from the ashes of an icehouse, and was conveniently located at the ruins of an actual icehouse used by the Knickerbocker Ice Co. The sculpture made of 19 blocks of ice, each weighing around 300 pounds, celebrates the appreciation of the state park that helped to preserve the nature of the area.

Patalano who has worked professionally as an ice sculptor for 21 years with the Rockland Lake Ice Company, a business he started, was the main sculptor for the “Phoenix Rising from the Lake.” He felt that the piece showed “nature’s taking back the lake for everybody.”

While both Englert and Patalano are passionate about reviving the Knickerbocker Ice Festival for next year, getting the appropriate funding to hold the event will be the main hurdle. According to Englert, the purpose of this celebration was to pique community interest and attract sponsors to support their efforts. Cash donations from those who attended were small, however, big names are interested in the event’s potential to bring revenue and recognition to Rockland.

President/CEO Al Samuels and Vice President of Development Roger Scheiber of the Rockland Business Association are interested in helping Englert and Patalano raise money for the festival. County Executive Ed Day is also on board and believes the event will be a great way to bring tourism dollars into the area. With adequate funding, the Knickerbocker Ice Festival has the potential to become the “signature event” of Rockland County.

Other more community-based efforts of funding are available. Englert hopes to launch a kickstarter campaign soon for supporters to donate. Englert’s employer SolarCity, a company that installs solar panels on homes and other buildings, has also pledged to help with the event. For each person who signed up at the festival to go solar in their homes, SolarCity will make a donation of $200 to the Knickerbocker Fund through the Rockland Community Foundation. Supporters can also visit the site to make a donation once the fund goes online.

The presence of SolarCity also helped to achieve the event’s larger focus of sustainability. “This festival when we started it was going to be all about sustainability. It was going to be about composting and solar and wind and LED lights and this new responsibility of embracing it. And it didn’t hurt that we had a sustainable industry, the ice industry, as our foundational motif,” said Englert.

The second day of the park’s celebration featured a large sculpture of a Maltese cross as a nod to the Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 1. According to Patalano, the department was created specifically for Rockland Lake because the icehouses frequently caught on fire. The department is still in operation today.

video of Patalano’s ice sculptures at previous ice festivals can be found online as well as the celebration’s Facebook page.

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