Duluth is cold. Duluth is outdoorsy.
Now a new festival will celebrate both.
Organizers in the Lake Superior port city are rebranding next month as “Cold Front February” and plan to kick it off with a long weekend of festivities based in tourist-friendly Canal Park on Feb. 1-4.
“We’re going to embrace our cold and our cool,” Mayor Emily Larson said.
While tourists are invited to partake, the festival is aimed at bringing the whole city together for free activities celebrating winter, said Duluth City Council member and festival organizer Elissa Hansen.
Despite being the shortest month of the year, February can often feel like a long month, with the glow of the holidays having worn off and winter’s temperatures still hovering in the teens and single digits, Hansen observed. As a result, people may think that everyone wants to hibernate.
“That’s the impression, but it’s not actually the reality,” Hansen said. The festival is “trying to celebrate the fact that we actually do all this stuff. Let’s be outside. We’re Minnesotans. We’re tough.”
The kickoff weekend at Canal Park, with the bulk of events running from 3 p.m. Friday to 3 p.m. Sunday, will feature a sledding hill, an ice-skating rink, fire pits and an ice-skating “trail” hugging the lake.
Day Tripper of Duluth will conduct fat biking demonstrations. Most of the activities will be set up in a parking lot across Canal Park Drive from Little Angie’s Cantina and Grill. The skating trail will follow the horse carriage path from the parking lot to Endion Station. A free trolley will deliver residents to the site from as far away as Lincoln Park.
Runners will kick things off with a 5K at 5:30 p.m. Friday. On Saturday, the festival will expand to include free s’mores and other local food samples and foods for sale. Patrons are invited to a Snoga session, Yoga in the Snow, at noon. Live entertainment will start at 8 p.m.
The park festival is funded partly by grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of its Knight Cities Challenge to help make cities more vibrant places. The city applied for and won more than $200,000 in grants last year to put toward “Making Canal Park Pop.”
The kickoff festival, which will feature at least 24 vendors in heated, pop-up spaces, is also sponsored by other public and private organizations.
Most snacks and activities will be free. Vendors will charge for goods and larger portions of food.
Canal Park “is the central place in our community,” Hansen said. “We’re testing out these different concepts to see how we can better bring residents together where there’s no socioeconomic definition.”
Larson said part of the city’s strategy is to make Canal Park a year-round destination for tourists and residents alike. Winter activity began increasing there a few years ago when the Bentleyville holiday light display moved to Bayfront Festival Park nearby.
City leaders want to “do more of that,” Larson said. “Let’s get outside, let’s kind of toast the cold and the cool and try some new things.”
But organizers hope the Cold Front February moniker will extend far beyond Canal Park and throughout the whole month. They want to help promote all sorts of new and existing outdoor activities in Duluth, including the three-year-old Duluth Ice & Mixed Fest put on by the Duluth Climbers Coalition and a polar plunge.
Organizers will update a schedule of events and list of activities at coldfrontduluth.com.