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Plunging temperatures make for early ice harvest on Squam

January 11, 2018
HOLDRENESS — Since the 1800's, Rockywold Deephaven Camps has harvested ice on Squam Lake, making it one of the oldest continuous ice harvests in the world, and this year organizers were particularly glad to have the ice all neatly tucked away before the middle of January.

John Jurczynski of RDC oversees the operations each winter, and said this year, the harvest was a bit earlier than most in recent memory.

"The earliest we've ever had ice thick enough to cut was many years ago, between Christmas and New Year's Day. Generally, we do it in mid- to late-January, but last year it wasn't until the very end of January, maybe even into the beginning of February, before we had ice think enough to harvest," Jurzynski said. "It feels good to get it done in early January this year though so we don't have to worry about it now."

Thick enough, he explained, is when the ice measures a minimum of 12-inches off the shores of RDC's facilities on Squam Lake. Arctic temperatures in the past week or more made ice quickly this winter though and by Monday morning when the harvest began, it was already measuring 14-15 inches, more then they could ask for.

The goal of the camps each year is to harvest approximately 200 tons of ice. The blocks of ice are stored in two icehouses on the property, covered in sawdust to preserve it, then broken up and used in old-time ice boxes in the RDC guest cabins throughout the spring and summer months.

"Today, the ice is 15-inches thick so our 15-by-19-inch blocks of ice at that thickness weigh about 145-lbs.. A typical 12-inch thick block of ice that size would weigh only 115-lbs. so we'll get the same volume of ice with fewer blocks this year," Jurczynski said.

Good news, he added, for the crews unloading the heavy blocks and stacking them in each of the icehouses.

Jurzynski and his team keep a close eye on the ice depth each winter and once they find a foot or more, the harvest date is set. After a safety meeting is held a day or two before, the loading ramp is brought out onto the ice and a warming hut set into place. They then gather bright and early in the morning for a three-day work session as the ice harvest officially gets underway. The job begins with a water-powered saw that cuts a grid into the frozen lake surface. A narrow channel is also cut from that grid to the loading ramp. Volunteers and spectators can then pitch in by pushing the ice blocks down the channel to the ramp where they are loaded onto trucks for a trip to the nearby icehouses.

Masha Shaw was among those pushing ice blocks along the channel this year. Originally from Russia she now lives in Portsmouth and spends her summers working at RDC as the Director of Housekeeping. It was only her second trip to the camp's ice harvest though and she said the age-old process continues to fascinate her.

"It seems so simple, but it is really ingenious. The equipment they use has been around forever but there's nothing modern that could be any better," Shaw said.

On top of that, she said, the end product is wonderful.

"Look at that big block of ice. It's so clear and so blue in color. When you are here and see all of this for yourself, it's just beautiful," she said.

Joining Shaw this year were her friends Maggie and Rachel of Newfields, who also had a pole to help move the ice blocks along. Maggie said she loves all of her trips to RDC and taking part in the ice harvest just helps solidify her deep connections to the camp.

"I've been coming here for 45 summers now. I was married here at Church Island, my daughter Rachel was baptized on Church Island and we love being a part of it all, even in the winter," she said.

Each year the traditional ice harvest also attracts media attention from all over New England and beyond. On Tuesday, WMUR's television cameras were out on the lake filming all the activity as Carl Hansen carefully cut the ice and teams worked to haul it all ashore for the camp's guests to use all summer long. The film crew's day at Rockywold Deephaven will be featured in the near future on "Chronicle," which is aired each weeknight at 7 p.m. on channel 9.

over 200 tons of ice to provide old-fashioned refrigeration for their visitors in the summer months to come.

A tradition at RDC since the 1880's, it proclaims it to be known today as one of the longest standing "commercial" ice harvests in world.

Each winter ice on Squam Lake is cut into large "fields" with customized saws. From there water-powered chainsaws cut those fields into 15x19-inch blocks, which this year were almost 13&1/2-inches thick.

Once cut, the blocks are floated along a narrow channel of water to a ramp where a wench hauls them to the top of a wooden platform. Crews then stack the blocks into the back of a truck that transports them to one of the two icehouses at the camp. There they are covered in sawdust, which will keep them cold all summer long to chill the nostalgic iceboxes found in each of the cabins.

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