NAPLES — Despite the rain and 70 tons of snow, hundreds of Collier County residents pulled on mittens and came out to Snowfest at Golden Gate Community Park on Saturday.
“It’s only rained for two Snowfests in 24 years,” said Annie Alvarez, regional manager of Collier County Parks and Recreation.
The 24th annual Collier County Parks and Recreation sponsored event gives Southwest Florida residents a chance to throw snowballs, build snowmen, go sledding down a small mountain and ice skate in 70-degree weather.
“I’m actually kind of shocked that there’s that many people actually coming here,” said Alvarez who didn’t expect the usual large turnout for the event because of the rain.
Last year the event, which ran from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., boasted an attendance of about 15,000.
“This is truly a signature event for Collier County. It’s a signature event for this community because for people to come out here in this weather with their kids and support this event is incredible,” she said.
Scattered thunderstorms were expected throughout the day Saturday, and a tornado watch was in effect in Collier County until 3 p.m., according to the National Weather Service office in Miami.
“We’re keeping an eye on the weather and making sure” that everything is safe for the public, Alvarez said.
The most popular activities were throwing snowballs, sledding down an artificial snow hill and “glice” skating on high density plastic with a light layer of silicon sprayed all over it.
“I think the people up north are laughing at us,” said Sarah Wayne of people coming to play in the snow in Southwest Florida. Wayne and her neighbor, Traci Pascale, have never seen real snow before and have been bringing their daughters to Snowfest for the past seven years.
They said they tried waiting for the rain to stop before they came, but like hundreds of other Collier County residents, they weren’t deterred.
“I thought it was going to be really nasty and dirty, but it really didn’t seem to make a difference,” Pascale said. “It was just as much fun, and less of a crowd … we were going to come either way.”
Around noon the rain stopped and the three mounds of snow, which separated the older kids from younger kids, were still mountainous.
“I mean 70 tons is a lot of snow,” she said. “It’s going to take a few hours for it to melt no matter what, and I think just being a little cool out helps.”
At 3 a.m. the event staff started making the snow from huge, 300-pound blocks of ice that were put through an ice chipper, like the ones used at ski resorts when snow doesn’t fall. Six hours later, the snow mounds were complete and ready for eager, curious Floridians.
Josey Sievers, 5, who played in the snow for the first time Saturday, said she liked that it was cold and that she could climb all over it.
“I know snow is cold by touching ice cubes, and I know that they’re cold,” Sievers said when asked why she was wearing mittens and a pink fleece.
Some kids, who had never seen snow before, has no clue what to expect. “It’s really cold,” said Lindsay Schwarz, 5. “I need gloves.”
The Herseys, who are originally from Chicago, brought his family to see the snow because it reminds them of Christmas up north and because going to Snowfest was cheaper than taking a trip to Chicago.
“I think that it’s really great that they do this every year, especially for kids that came from up north and also for kids that have never seen snow before,” Curt Hersey said.
“It’s a little strange to see snow in Southwest Florida considering we’re wearing T-shirts in 80 degrees.”
Admission to the event was free, but the carnival rides required the purchase of tickets.
Although the snow will be gone, Snowfest will continue from noon to 5 p.m. today.
E-mail Sarah Donovan at email@example.com.