After the holidays wind down and spring begins to feel like it will never come around, Fish Creek will have a much-needed break from the winter doldrums. For two days over the Winter Fest weekend in February, spectators will be treated to a skyline full of spectacular color, artistry and drama, also known as Kites Over the Bay. This is the fourth year that Fish Creek has celebrated winter with the kite-flying event and the attendance has expanded steadily. Co-sponsor Toby Schlick, owner of the Fish Creek Kite Company, is not surprised to see interest grow. “People get so excited seeing those big kites over the ice,” Toby reflects. “Anyone who has seen our kite fly or the one that used to take place in Madison [Kites on Ice] is still talking about it years later.”
Perhaps the reason for the excitement is the sheer size of these aptly named “giant kites.” World-renowned kite flier Al Sparling will be returning to Kites Over the Bay and will be bringing a crowd favorite – a 90-foot Trilobite kite. (For those of you who need to brush up on your geology, the Trilobite is the Wisconsin State Fossil and those found in nature, ironically, are less than 14 inches in size.) This kite is one of several giant kites that are featured as part of the fly. Sparling explained what it means to have a winter kite event, saying, “I have really seen the Fish Creek kite fly grow each year. The conditions for a winter event can be a little trickier to predict; however, when they are right, there is much more space to spread out over the ice.” Since the spectators are also welcomed onto the ice, that extra room is a plus. Sparling has done kite flies all around the world – in England, France, and Thailand, to name a few places – but sees the Fish Creek event as a great reason to come to Door County.
Bob Rymaszewski, the acting American Kitefliers Association (AKA) Regional Director, also enjoys coming to the county for this annual event. “We love to come to Door County several times a year for vacation, so when Toby brought the idea to us about a winter event we thought, how perfect. This particular kite fly is a little cozier in that it has a small group of fliers that have been together since the beginning. We like to hang out and enjoy ourselves,” he says. Spectators can expect to see a 40-foot teddy bear, an elaborate octopus, and a 50-foot long caterpillar that bounces on the ice and will be something that children can interact with. While some might assume that kite flying is just for children, others know that it is a hobby/sport/obsession for adults as well. The kites that spark interest in adults are intricate creations made of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pieces of fabric and are lessons in design and aerodynamics. Not exclusively child’s play.
Valerie Murre-Schlick, Toby’s wife, can’t always believe the level of enthusiasm that the fliers bring with them. “It’s not easy to stand out on the ice for two full days flying these large kites; however, the fliers just love doing it. The temperature might be below freezing, they aren’t getting paid to perform, and yet they so enjoy themselves by showing the crowd what these kites can do.”
The Fish Creek Civic Association (FCCA), who is the other co-sponsor of the event, is glad to have Kites Over the Bay as part of the Winter Festival line-up. FCCA board member and event chair Bonnie Spielman (also owner of Hat Head) knows that this is becoming a much bigger draw for the community than was first imagined. “The kites are so magnificent and colorful,” she says. “You are just drawn down to the beach when you see them.”
While the pictures of past events are interesting to look at, you cannot really appreciate the full scale of these colossal and fanciful kites unless you are standing right under them. This year’s festival begins on Friday, February 8th and runs through Sunday the 10th. The kite flying will take place all day Saturday and Sunday. Other events taking place over the weekend include Door County Idol, a snow sculpture contest and other family activities throughout town. Novice kite enthusiasts can also participate in a morning of kite building at the Northern Door YMCA on Saturday from 10:00 am until noon and then have the chance to fly their custom kites on the ice later with all the others. For more information on Kites Over the Bay, go to www.fishcreek.info or www.fishcreekkites.com.