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A third successful Beat the Bitter

Third annual winter festival attracts thousands
Kya Dobesh, of North Liberty, toasts a marshmallow at the community bonfire during Beat the Bitter's Fire & Ice Friday on Feb. 2. This year’s schedule expanded to an entire week, featuring business-affiliated events, free activities on Friday and sports on Saturday. (photo by Cale Stelken)

NORTH LIBERTY– While the ground may have been absent of snow to start the Friday festivities, that didn’t stop thousands of locals from gathering for what is becoming a North Liberty tradition. A core part of the Beat the Bitter week, Fire & Ice Friday, took place Feb. 2 at Penn Meadows Park, offering locals a variety of free activities to celebrate Iowa’s frigid season.
“We are very pleased with how the third year went for Beat the Bitter,” said Jillian Miller, community engagement coordinator for the City of North Liberty. “As much as it grew between the first and second year, it grew again from second to third.”
Some flurries in the late afternoon provided ambiance to the festive weekend kick-off as a horse-drawn carriage made its way around the park. And with temperatures befitting of the festival’s name, hovering around 20 degrees, the glow of the bonfire welcomed a bustling crowd well into the evening hours.
Miller credited this year’s growth to the addition of business-affiliated events and the Penn Meadows ice rink.
“About 20 local businesses in total put together about 30 affiliated events, ranging from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3. And there was about a combined 1,500 people that attended those 30 affiliated events,” Miller reported. “Adding onto our activities, we saw about 4,000 on Friday and Saturday.”
With Fire & Ice Friday in its second year, Miller said the committee doubled its programming for 2018, introducing a fire batons performance, wood carver, s’mores, a learn to curl program and ice skating to this year’s lineup.
Locals enjoyed nearly a thousand cups of hot chocolate provided by State Farm and about 700 s’mores courtesy of Hills Bank and Trust. An estimated 300 people skated on the ice rink, and 100 people participated in the Learn to Curl workshop Friday night.
Facing temperatures nearing the teens and in nothing more than T-shirts and leggings, the Ambition Baton Twirling and Dance team made its Beat the Bitter debut with two fire baton performances, the first being in the afternoon. They returned to light up the night with an evening performance before posing with locals, the fog of their breath and the smoke of the flames mingling in the frosty air.
Ice carver Ron Dillavou demonstrated his mesmerizing craft, creating the Beat the Bitter logo and Olympics rings logo out of large cubes, and later on, Clink Henik of Carve R Way made his festival debut, transforming a block of wood into a Beat the Bitter logo through skillful carving and painting.
The evening was rounded out with food trucks, literary mascots Chase from Paw Patrol and Bad Kitty from the Bad Kitty book series visiting with kids, a photo booth featuring the GEICO Gecko and a fireworks show at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 3, was dedicated to winter sporting events. That morning, about 180 runners, an increase from last year’s 150, participated in the 5K-ish Obstacle Run. Carly McCabe flipped tires, scaled walls and pulled weighted sleds to take women’s first place while Craig Thompson took first place in men’s.
The third annual KICK Winter in the Snow BALL tournament was won by a brand new team by the moniker Fire Up. On the skating rink, twelve teams competed in curling, which was won by the Sonic Screwdrivers. Four teams competed in broomball, which ended in victory for the Orange Bitters.
Adorning their Beat the Bitter Snuggies, a whopping 360 people took part in the second annual Snuggie Bar Crawl Saturday evening. Four trollies transported them on a continuous loop throughout the night to top off the winter festivities.
“The local businesses were busy, and brought not only the Snuggie attendees out but also people that wanted to join in some of the atmosphere,” Miller said, adding that registration sold out early for the event. Venues included Adelitas Mexican Grill and Tin Roost– both new additions to the town’s growing assortment of restaurants– as well as BeerBurger, Rocky O’Brien’s Public House, J&A Tap and Reds Alehouse.
Following the enthusiastic response to this year’s festivities, Miller is already looking to 2019, projecting a similar core schedule for both on Friday and Saturday but with additional programming.
“We feel like Beat the Bitter’s making its place. It’s becoming a winter tradition here in North Liberty,” she assessed, adding that following the event, many have locals offered to help the committee plan future Beat the Bitters.
“We’re definitely feeling a lot of enthusiasm and interest from the community,” Miller said. “So that just gives us more enthusiasm as we continue planning into the future.”