PHOTOS: Crowds throng Golden Gate Community Park for a snowy day

Snowfest brings cool fun to Naples

The 25th annual event draws a crowd

Saturday’s forecast called for 100 percent chance of snow in Golden Gate.

Collier County Parks & Recreation put on their 25th Annual Snowfest Saturday in Golden Community Park, and thousands of families brought their children to get a little taste of winter.

Since Mother Nature didn’t provide a blizzard, the park followed the lead of ski resorts from Canada to Colorado, and made their own snow. It wasn’t quite the same as a blanket of white covering the landscape and delicate flakes melting on your tongue, but, after all, this is the sub-tropics.

“You can’t have my snow,” Gene Kieliszek, supervising one of two sled runs at the park, told youngsters grabbing snow to throw at each other. “We’ve got five more hours to go.” The crews were out at 3 a.m. making the snow, by finely grinding up ice, and it had to last all day. The sled runs and snow “mountains” had a foundation of bales of hay, said Kieliszek.

Luckily the day, while bright and sunny, was cool enough so that even at mid-afternoon, the snow and the ice sculptures around the park were holding up. Kids waited in long lines for the thrill of sliding down the slope on sleds provided, and many moms and dads rode down with their offspring, ostensibly to help, but appearing to enjoy themselves immensely.

On the snow mountains, groups of children segregated by age got three minutes to climb up, slide down, and get their clothes wet, before the next batch had their turn. Once again, the park employees tried to restrict them from throwing snowballs, but it was a losing battle. Let loose on an enormous mound of snow with their friends and siblings, they immediately attacked each other with friendly fire, and at least a few included the parents, watching from outside the fence, as targets.

For many of the children, this was the closest they had ever come to a winter wonderland, but some had experience from “up north.” Ashlee Murray of Naples, age 10, has come to Snowfest every year since age three, said mom Shannon Murray.

“I was in snow in Tennessee,” said Ashlee. “We made a snowman.”

In addition to the piles of snow and a chance to try ice skating, Snowfest featured a full-blown midway and fair. A Ferris wheel offered an aerial view of the site, and a smaller one provided a ride for small children. Mothers stood alongside their children as the carousel whirled around. Lindsey Cross, age seven, said the best part was holding the animals at the 4-H Club petting zoo.

On stage, karate and dance exhibitions alternated with live music. Mismatched Socks, a five-voice vocal ensemble, entertained with holiday songs including “Ring, Christmas Bells,” “Santa Baby,” and “Jingle Bell Rock.” Kids soared skyward on the bungee trampoline, or created sand art and handmade tree ornaments in Santa’s Workshop.

Abigail Woods helped her daughter Kristin glue a picture on a reindeer ornament.

“I’m a crafter – I love all this stuff,” said Abigail. “Years ago, my dad used to make the ice sculptures here.”

For pony rides, kids could choose between riding in the saddle or being pulled in a cart made to look like a sleigh.

When all the games and activities made people hungry, a row of trailers offered corn dogs, pretzel dogs, pizza, wings, funnel cakes, shish kebob, kettle corn, and both Polish and Italian sausage. Set off from the others, one last trailer sold Sno-Cones, and was painted with the most appropriate name for the event: Tropical Sno.

Kathie Pelley watched her grandson Aidan Doyle, 6, enjoy a rainbow Sno-Cone and the sunshine.

“I remember, it was pouring rain last year for Snowfest,” she said. “This is just a beautiful day.”

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