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Hoping for less bitter this year, Beat the Bitter returns this month!

A full week of outdoor activities kick off on Jan. 25
Steam rising from cups of hot chocolate resembles flames in the late afternoon sunlight Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, at Penn Meadows Park in North Liberty during the Fire and Ice Friday event, a part of the weeklong Beat the Bitter winter festival. JCI Johnson County (Jaycees) provided the steaming hot liquid treat free of charge during the four-hour event, which featured fire dancing, ice carving, a bonfire, ice-skating and fireworks.

NORTH LIBERTY– Winter in Iowa can be rough. Once green cornfields resemble a windswept Arctic tundra from Siberia. Most people huddle in their homes, grumbling about the cold, the wind, the snow, the ice, and whatever reason it is they continue to live in Iowa.
However, there is another group of people who grin rather than grumble and embrace winter rather than curse it. For those special folks, there is Beat the Bitter, a week full of activities designed to get people out from under their comforters and into the great outdoors for fun, adventure and good cheer.
The fifth annual event kicks off on Saturday, Jan. 25, and runs through Saturday, Feb. 1.
The event started as many fun and crazy notions do, around a table in a bar as a group of people conversed about how bad Iowans can be when it comes to dealing with the ravages of winter. A small committee of residents emerged and spearheaded a quest for wintertime fun in North Liberty.
The city’s communications department was engaged to help plan, promote and execute the fledgling enterprise with the goal of challenging people to embrace winter, throw hibernation out the window, and realize, “This is what’s happening for the next four months,” said Jillian Miller, the city’s community engagement coordinator. “We can enjoy it instead of just hiding away.”
The original event featured a 5k run, kickball tournament and an adult party in the evening. Even with only a few weeks of promotion, Miller said it was a big success. Beat the Bitter expanded in its second year with double the number of events and double the number of participants, she said.
“Ever since, we continue to tweak and add new core events to the schedule, get local businesses involved, and become something that not only is big for North Liberty residents, but the surrounding area to look forward to as well.”
Miller joined the City of North Liberty during planning for the second Beat the Bitter and said it was fun to have, pretty much, an open slate to work with in order to create something enjoyable for people during the winter after the holidays passed.
“There seems to be nothing going on between the holidays and spring break,” she said. “So that’s been a really good fit. The Iowa City-Cedar Rapids area has events all over, it feels like, spring-to-fall, almost every weekend you can find something. But there really is a need for more entertainment to get people out of the house in the winter. So, we’re really glad to be able to provide that.”

Core Events
2020 will see the continued evolution of Beat the Bitter’s core events with an eye toward making them even bigger and better.
The week starts with the Igloo Jam, a concert bringing local favorite The Pork Tornados to the stage at the South Slope Community Center. Tickets must be purchased in advance with only 350 available at $25.
“We really transform the space with lighting, there’s a bar (included in the ticket price is a free drink) and all the things that make it a fun night life for North Liberty that night,” Miller said.
The 5K-ish Obstacle Run is set for 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 26, in Penn Meadows Park. The event has carried over from the first year and Miller said it has evolved with new obstacles, while dealing with challenges ranging from no snow on the ground to the arrival of a Polar Vortex and several feet of snow to trudge through. The non-timed event challenges participants with a dozen obstacles around the perimeter of the park. They’ll run three laps, bypassing the obstacles on lap two, and receive a participation medal at the finish line. While it’s billed as a fun run, some take it very seriously, she said, while others are just out trying something new. In addition to the medals, there are prizes for the first-place finishers.
Registration is required for the 5K at $15 and jumps to $20 after the first of the year. The events requiring pre-registration and ticket purchases provide the funds necessary to put on the free events during Beat the Bitter
The free Fire and Ice event follows the 5K from 3-7 p.m. with horse-drawn trolley rides, outdoor ice skating (with free skates available on-site), ice carvers, bonfires, and the return of the fire performers, breathing and eating fire. Fire and Ice ends with a spectacular fireworks show.
“We’re upping all of the talent that we’re bringing in,” said Miller, who added Beat the Bitter is the only fireworks show for the year for North Liberty.
“There’s a lot of great community shows nearby (around the Fourth of July), and the bonus of winter fireworks is that the sun sets at six, so we’ve got a seven ‘O clock fireworks show, you don’t have to stay very late,” Miller added.
The Winter Games are set for Saturday, Feb. 1, featuring the “Kick Winter in the Snowball” kick ball tournament, a curling tournament and broom ball tournament.
“The kick ball tournament was one of those staple events right from the start,” Miller said. “There are people that participate every year, there are people that did it one year, or joined for a few, but it is really entertaining to watch them play, especially last year when there was tons of snow for them to run around in.”
Preregistration of teams of nine-twelve players, at $75, is required for the kick ball tournament and goes up to $100 per team after Jan. 1. Each member of the Championship Team will receive a medal.
“You’ll want to get your team in quick,” she added, as spots tend to fill quickly.
The curling tournament began three years ago in partnership with the Cedar Rapids Curling Club. The tournament features twelve teams of four players each, and as with the kick ball tourney, early registration is a must at $40 per team.
“You don’t have to know curling, and that’s the great thing. These experts are here, they’re here to teach you, they’re here to work with you, and it’s just a really fun time to try something new outside in the middle of winter.”
A free “Learn to Curl” session will be held the night before for anyone interested in learning about the sport.
The broomball is similar to hockey but without skates. A group of local residents interested in promoting the sport purchased equipment, and like the curling club, will be on-hand to provide instruction and equipment for the tourney. Individual registrations are just fine for broomball at $10 per person, with teams assigned at the tournament.
Last but not least is the Snuggie Crawl, an event that sold out in a record setting 27 hours, involving 450 people in purple custom embroidered “snuggies,” the sleeved blankets often advertised on TV, being transported on six party busses provided by Black Diamond Limousine, of North Liberty, to seven participating drinking establishments in North Liberty, including Tin Roost, The Leaderboard, Rocky O’Brien’s, J&A Tap, Red’s Ale House, Mosley’s and El Cactus.
“I wanted something sillyand it’s just a fun night on the town,” Miller said.
It’s also a major fundraiser for Beat the Bitter, making the fireworks and other events possible.
Registration info and more information on all the events can be found online at https://beatthebitter.com/.

Affiliated Events
For the third year, Beat the Bitter will have a series of affiliated events in which local businesses and community organizations have been asked to come up with something out of the ordinary, related to winter fun and their business, which adds to the week of events.
“We’ve seen speakers, educational series, we have things for all ages, there’s activities for young kids, there’s activities for seniors, the Seniors Connections Luncheon has brought in a speaker for Beat the Bitter week,” Miller said.
“Keystone place is another partner, they bring in a speaker for their residents, but anyone in the community can come too. We’ve had local restaurants put on special dinners, or ticketed beer-pairing dinners, there was a Daddy-Daughter Prom, there might be free dance classes somewhere, it’s just a way for businesses to offer some extra exposure to what they’re doing, and maybe drive some people in during a cold month when they might be more likely to stay home,” she said. “We’re excited to give them a little more of a marketing platform by adding to our week of activities, and we certainly appreciate them helping round out what there is to do.”
The affiliated events also add to the mix of free and registered events, and provide more opportunities across all age groups, Miller added.

Weather and Safety are always a concern
“We want to be safe,” said Miller. “We want to be outside and Beat the Bitter, but last year’s Polar Vortex showed us we also have to be safe.”
The extreme cold iced the Polar Plunge, a fundraiser for the North Liberty Police Department’s K-9 unit, and led to a variety of challenges throughout Beat the Bitter.
“Last year was really the first time we were put into a position to put our money where our mouth is and show our name is all it’s cracked up to be,” Miller said.
But organizers have decided to follow the guidelines of area school districts on wind chill advisories and how long somebody should be outside.
“In the event we have to make any kind of changes, we will communicate that on our website and social media. It’s nice to follow that guideline because people are familiar with it,” she said.
\Even with the Arctic sub-zero blast of cold wind last year, almost every Beat the Bitter event was held. Some events were moved indoors, but overall, the schedule was by and large unaffected by Old Man Winter’s worst.
“We’re committed to providing entertainment during that week,” Miller said, and while every event is considered if it could be moved indoors or not, “We appreciate people bundling up, even if it’s for 15 minutes or 45 minutes, or two hours depending on what the temperature is, and enjoying it, and having something that breaks up their winter a little bit.”