It all began with a mischievous little soiree at Lagoon Saloon on the Portage River in 2015.
Of course, the party turned out not-so-little, and the goodbye-winter-hello-spring get-together event in Port Clinton, Ohio, has grown every year since. This year’s Burning Snowman Fest promises to be the biggest, best and hottest ever.
The February party was conceived back in 2014, when a handful of friends got together and decided what the area needed, especially bars and restaurants, was a weekend boost.
Despite the similar name, the event has no inspiration from or connection to Nevada’s annual Burning Man.
“It was about eight of us that were sitting around, thinking about ‘How can we bring some business to downtown Port Clinton and how can we throw one heck of a party in the wintertime?’” said Lenny Kromer, one of the original instigators. “We expected 500 people and we got two, three thousand. We had no idea.”
Kromer said the musician-oriented group required music and, of course, a burning snowman. Add some refreshing adult beverages, food and maybe some people—make that a lot of people who kept telling other people who told other people.
The first couple years Burning Snowman was held on a small peninsula on the banks of the Portage River at Lagoon Saloon. After that, the Lake Erie shore at Dock’s Beach House. But the growing burn crowds, many traveling from out of town, could not be contained. This year, Burning Snowman will be held at Waterworks Park, where the Portage River meets Lake Erie.
Embers shrink, flames climb, crowds swell
Tim, just like the previous five snowmen—Norman, Charlie, Harold, Floyd and Virgil—is constructed out of rebar globes. The steel mesh is fastened to the frame by thousands of pieces of wire. At the burn site, the globes are threaded onto a four-sided steel pyramid and stuffed with dead Christmas trees.
The first year of Burning Snowman, the snowman was about 25-feet tall. This year he’ll be a little taller and a little wider. It will take about 50 trees to stuff Tim.
“The construction of it is completely different than it was the first year, it’s a lot safer now,” Kromer said. “Year after year we always worry about the embers and the wind direction and about the safety of people and property. We always have to have that at the foreground of what we’re doing, so there’s no more cloth on the outside anymore, like before. There’s still just as many Christmas trees, if not more, but it’s contained better.”
Once established as snowman-burning gurus, the crew began working with the Port Clinton fire chief. That included testing various construction methods and materials, including using a leaf blower to simulate stiff winds along the lakeshore.
“We’ve sent the fire chief videos,” Kromer explained. “We want to make a foolproof way this thing can burn.”
The fire won’t be limited to the snowman. Plenty of fire will be had, including fires to stay warm and flames to entertain. The Ohio Burn Unit will be performing at the event and ice sculpting and other entertainment will run throughout the day.
City jumps into fray by
Port Clinton Mayor Mike Snider said he’s glad the city hopped on the Burning Snowman train.
“We got involved because it’s become such a focal point of winter activities around here and there were just too many people,” he said. “And that’s a good thing to have! The event fills the city on Friday night, as well. I’m excited to have it in our park – it’s close to downtown and it’s just another fun thing to do in our area.”
While Port Clinton is a seasonal location, Snider said that’s changing as more events start happening year-round.
“It’s incredible,” he said.
Bryan Edwards, director of marketing for Lake Erie Shores and Islands, agrees.
“Every town’s got a bar and you can go out drinking anytime you want,” he said. “But you can’t go see a giant snowman burned as an effigy of winter, at a cool place like right here on the lake. Obviously we promote it, but it’s mostly word of mouth. It’s kind of a cool, kitsch event you can’t do everywhere and yes, it’s bringing a lot of people here.”
The best part of it, according to Edwards, is the date.
“In February a lot of people in this area especially feel cooped up,” he said. “They’ve got cabin fever and want to get out of the house and do something outside, something fun. It’s a great excuse.”
Kevin Limbert of Timberlake, Ohio, owns a home near Lagoon Saloon and was at the first Burning Snowman and all the others.
“I was out there at the very first one on an Argo six-wheeler with the dogs,” he said. “It’s a nice way to break up the winter. Kind of quirky, like the Walleye Drop they have every year. It’s not really family oriented, I mean, it is a lot of people drinking, but then adults should be able to have a good time now and then.”
According to Limbert, by late February, folks in northwest Ohio are primed for something outdoors.
“Up here in Vacationland, Ohio, people are just counting the days until April, when everyone comes up to open up their trailers or cottages or summer homes,” he said. “It breaks things up, it’s perfect timing. There’s just not much to do in February up here.”
Shots, suds and drinks in the streets
Late in 2019, Port Clinton City Council created a 92-acre space where drinking folks can have open containers. The entertainment district, officially called Main Street Outdoor Refreshment Area, allows people to have their beverages outside bars and restaurants.
“While Waterworks Park is not part of MORA, the rest of downtown is,” said Snider. “So all the bars and restaurants in the downtown area are open for business and ready for people to come enjoy Port Clinton in winter.”
Area hotels are filling quickly, with a few sold out already, and even Airbnb offerings are shrinking quickly.
Aimee Slater-West owns Slater’s Madison Street Pub, a mainstay of downtown Port Clinton entertainment.
“Burning Snowman is great, an awesome way to hopefully bring an end to winter. It’s great for business, and it brings in lots of people we haven’t seen since summer and fall, and it gets everyone in town out of their houses. It’s the perfect mix of tourists, local people and part-time residents,” she said. “Everyone has to be here to help usher out winter.”
Saturday, Feb. 29, noon to 10 p.m.
Port Clinton, Ohio
$10 admission, 21 & older
No pets allowed
Live bands and food vendors
Free shuttles to and from nine area bars
Tim burns at 7:30 p.m.
Featured Image: Meet Tim. He won’t be around for long, Photo by James Proffitt