Who says that golf, horseshoes, volleyball, and lake parties have to be exclusive to summer? Some residents of Cooley Lake certainly don’t think so, as they gear up to host their third annual Cooley Lake Winter Fest on Saturday, Feb. 12.
What first started as an impromptu get-together between friends on the lake — located mostly in White Lake Township and partially in Commerce Township — has grown into a full-blown winter festival that gathers the Cooley Lake community together.
“We started just calling people on the lake (a couple years ago),” said Chris Nesbitt, whose neighbors have dubbed him the “Mayor of Cooley Lake.” “We were all getting cabin fever and hadn’t seen each other since the holidays. So we decided to put together a golf course on the lake and put together foursomes for playing some ice golf and have some fun with it.”
The event is also held at his island in the lake.
Nesbitt said he figured the neighborhood had an event for the Fourth of July, so its residents should also get together and have one during the winter.
Tom Hempel, another founder of the festival, said organizers construct a five-hole golf course on the lake by plowing the fairway and using a snow blower for the putting green — which is actually green in color with the aid of spray paint.
Holes are drilled in the ice and cups are placed in them, while tennis balls are used in lieu of golf balls. Golf clubs can be anything you want them to be, according to Hempel, who said the most popular tend to be baseball bats and tennis rackets.
“It’s a total blast,” Hempel said. “The word has spread (around the lake). People who didn’t attend previous festivals now start asking when it’s going to be.”
Nesbitt added a lot of people snowmobiling on the lake or on their four wheelers noticed the festivities and wanted to join in on the merriment.
“Last year, it got a little bigger. We added more games to the program,” he said.
Those games included volleyball, different variations of horseshoes, as well as frozen chicken bowling, where lanes with real bowling pins are set up on the lake and frozen chickens are used as bowling balls.
Two huge ice rinks are also available — one dedicated for hockey and one for open skating. Nesbitt said organizers also plan to plow walking trails for the golfers, which can also be used as a skating trail around the lake by ice skaters.
A snowman making contest, three-legged ice race, and a sled pulling contest are just a few other activities that can be enjoyed by children and adults.
Of course, any neighborhood party wouldn’t be complete without food. There will be hamburgers and bratwursts provided, while everybody else brings a dish potluck-style.
“Everybody brings their own dish to share, as well as beverages and chairs for the bonfire,” Nesbitt said. “Food will be coming from all directions.”
Karen Jagodzinkski is tasked with keeping a list of what dishes will be brought to share so not everybody is bringing the same thing.
While it may seem to be a huge undertaking setting up an event like this, Jagodzinkski said she doesn’t consider it to be “work.”
“It is a simple planning effort of a close group of people who enjoy being together,” she said. “We all have fun doing it.”
She added that many people volunteer for various tasks such as making and distributing flyers, donating tables and tents, gathering firewood, and helping to set up the event.
Through donations, volunteers, and the proceeds from a 50/50 raffle, the event is not a huge expense.
“My favorite part of the Winter Fest is how it brings our Cooley Lake family — neighbors and close friends — together during the winter,” Jagodzinkski said. “It is always so much fun watching everyone enjoying themselves, especially the kids.”
“It’s a really nice way for all the neighbors to connect and get to know each other,” he said. “It helps the winter go by faster.”