Winter wonderland: Parks & Rec hosts annual Snowfest at Golden Gate Community Center

Lance Shearer

This year, Collier County has already seen torrential rains, lightning, floods, stifling heat, waterspouts, and a Category 3 hurricane sweeping directly overhead. So what’s a little snow?

Actually, it was more than a little snow – 100 tons of it – that “fell” on the Golden Gate Community Center on Saturday, forming the basis of Snowfest, the county parks and recreation department’s signature event.

Brooklyn Williams, 8, makes a snowball but won't throw it. Thousands of kids and their families came out to Snowfest Saturday evening at the Golden Gate Community Center.

Now in its 32nd year, Snowfest is touted as the largest event all year in Collier County, drawing upwards of 15,000 children and family members to get the closest possible approximation of a white Christmas without traveling to a colder climate.

Kids lined up for the chance to spend a few minutes frolicking atop mounds of snow, manufactured for the occasion by putting 1,200 blocks of ice through a chipper, and piling it on top of bales of hay. Some youngsters came prepared for cold, with mittens and boots, but most were wearing clothing appropriate for the balmy temperatures that prevailed, with temperatures in the mid-70s.

Between making snowballs to toss at their friends, and sliding down the mounds, wet feet and wet seats showed the kids who had already taken their turn in the snow. The snow was clearly the star attraction, but there were a host of other activities, rides and games to keep the younger generation engaged – although Alison Tripoli, 3, was pushed around the grounds fast asleep in her stroller, having had all the fun she could stay awake for.

Snowfest is a full-featured winter carnival, with a midway offering carnival rides and attractions, “Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen” food court with everything from kettle corn to arepas (sweet corn patties), funnel cakes, pizza, hot pretzels and more, a DJ leading the crowd in classic holiday tunes such as the “Electric Slide” and the Mararena, rides and activities such as laser tag, a slushy snow slide that brought out shrieks and smiles, and the Sheriff’s Office climbing wall, as well as the chance to have your picture taken with Santa Claus.

Costumed characters including Cinderella, the Gingerbread Man, a Care Bear, and Shiro the alligator also posed with families.

One mom said she felt left out, forced to watch her daughter Brooklyn playing King of the Mountain on the snow hill.

“It’s not fair – I want to be in there,” said Suzanne Williams.