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'What makes us special': Frozen Assets festival celebrates Madison's lakes with icy fun

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Frozen fun

Galen Heyne and his 3-month-old daughter, Izzy, are dressed for Saturday's cold conditions during a visit to the icy surface of Lake Mendota for the Frozen Assets festival.

Kurt Loewenkamp and Leah Wicander were better prepared Saturday to take on a run over unusual terrain.

The couple learned from the last time they ran the 5K race on icy Lake Mendota as part of the Frozen Assets festival. Wicander said the sun had come out and started melting snow and ice, causing her to fall multiple times. This time, the Madison East Siders sported Yaktrax — slip-on traction devices — over their running shoes.

And a chilly 10-degree temperature and overcast skies at the race’s start time offered preferential weather.

“I prefer cold-weather running, because it’s just too uncomfortable otherwise,” she said.

Puck shot

The Frozen Assets festival, a fundraiser for organizer Clean Lakes Alliance, included several activities to keep children entertained, including a youth hockey rink where volunteer Elissa Tikalsky helped youngsters hit the back of the net.

The Frozen Assets festival brought out first-timers and longtimers Saturday for activities and events on the icy surface of Lake Mendota right outside The Edgewater hotel. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the family-friendly event acts as a fundraiser for organizer Clean Lakes Alliance.

“Our lakes are our biggest assets, and when they’re frozen, they are our largest parks,” said James Tye, executive director and founder of the nonprofit. “It’s really easy to access them and the idea is that Frozen Assets celebrates our lakes.”

More than 600 people turned out for the 5K walk and run that had participants racing along the snow-covered lake. Children tried their hand at hockey and sipped hot chocolate. Skydivers with Seven Hills Skydivers put on a show by dropping thousands of feet and gracefully landing on the lake’s surface. And colorful kites flown by people from across Wisconsin dotted the air above Madison’s largest lake.

Dropping in

A skydiver with Seven Hills Skydivers descends behind the tail of a kite being flown on Lake Mendota. The kites will be back on the lake from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Dale Bowden was among those with the Wisconsin Kiters Club putting on the display. While the large kites were flying well enough, the Wisconsin Rapids resident and regional director of a national kite flying association said the wind was too spotty to support “line laundry” — decorative elements hung from the line of a kite.

“I’ve got 12 cats. I’ve got a Minion. I’ve got a bunch of little dogs. I’ve got a couple fish,” Bowden said of his line laundry. “If the wind was good and steady, I could get everything out. But being spotty, we got to babysit the kites more.”

Regardless, the display was still impressive to Robin Ehrler and her husband, who regularly attended Frozen Assets with their children before they were grown.

“In the wintertime, there’s not a lot of things you can actually do outside,” the Sun Prairie resident said. “But we do love to come and watch the kites.”

Flying a kite

Faith Zittlow, of Green Bay, launches her large kite for the display that was put on by members of the Wisconsin Kiters Club.

Jessie Stankey and her two children were attending their first Frozen Assets after friends told them about the festival, which has raised about $1.3 million in the past decade for Clean Lakes Alliance to do water quality improvement work in the Yahara River watershed.

“We came out so we could look at the kites and watch all that and go ice skating,” Stankey said.

Her 8-year-old son, Julius, quickly added, “and play hockey,” followed by daughter Miriam, 4, chiming in with, “and meet up with my friends.”

Economic benefits

Throughout the week, Clean Lakes Alliance hosted panel discussions and educational events about the ecological and economic benefits of healthy lakes.

“It’s really about science, education, fun and conservation,” Tye said of Frozen Assets.

When the lakes freeze over in the winter, Tye said anybody can enjoy them regardless of whether they own a boat or know how to swim.

“We’re a state Capitol, a university town and then we have the lakes,” he said. “That’s what makes us special.”

Gabe and Faith Zittlow were making a weekend out of the festival. The Green Bay couple was part of the group displaying the kites, which will be flown again from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. On Friday night, the kites were flown with strips of LED lights on them.

“We try to put as much color in the air as possible,” Gabe Zittlow said as he ice fished on Lake Mendota, finding no luck by late morning.

Running on the lake

More than 600 people joined in either running or walking the 5-kilometer course that started outside The Edgewater and went along the shoreline toward the UW-Madison campus before doubling back to the hotel.

As you wish

Middleton resident Laura Guse was attending Frozen Assets for the first time and already intends to return next year and participate in the 5K. She said she was particularly fascinated by the speed at which the skydivers were coming in but how quickly they would slow down for a soft landing.

Asked whether it made her want to try skydiving, Guse said: “That thought went through my head, but then I was like, ‘Oh no, I’m afraid of heights.’”

As for Loewenkamp and Wicander, the couple who ran in the 5K, the plan was to enjoy the complimentary beer after the race before grabbing lunch somewhere else Downtown.

“A very typical Madison Saturday for us,” Wicander said. “Something active and then something inside eating and drinking. Life’s about balance.”

"It's really about science, education, fun and conservation."

James Tye, executive director and founder of the Clean Lakes Alliance

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Logan Wroge is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has been with the newspaper since 2015.

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