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Winter weather might not seem like a reason to head outdoors, but in Lititz, the freezing temperatures are firing up fun for Valentine's Day weekend, Feb. 12-15. The Lititz Fire & Ice Festival is part art exhibit, and part cooking competition. The festival features ice sculptures, a chili cook-off, vendors and an indoor carnival.

The Lititz Fire & Ice Festival, now in its eleventh year, has become a favorite yearly event, not only for Lititz residents, but also for tourists looking for a different kind of weekend getaway. Each year there's something new to see. Event Director Dawn Rissmiller explains, "We change it up every year. We like to keep it fresh."

One way to keep the festival fresh is to invite local celebrities. Jon Gosselin, star of "Jon & Kate Plus 8," will be one of the celebrity judges for this year's chili cook-off. Holly Love, who can be heard on BOB 94.9 FM, will also be deciding this year's best chili.

Ice sculptures & slide

Several new pieces will be part of the more than 50 ice sculptures that will be on display throughout Lititz Springs Park and Main Street. "Friday night is the big kick-off," Rissmiller said. "We have a lot [of sculptures] in the park being designed live. There's also a live carving at Main and Broad." Friday night's Party in the Park will also feature live bands and a fire eater in the Pulse Dance Pavilion. Admission is free.

Artists from the DiMartino Ice Company, in Jeannette, will carve blocks of ice into whatever their sponsors request. Some of the ice sculptures that are new for this year are an ice slide and an interactive snowman. Past sculptures have included an old-fashioned carriage, a mug of beer, candy sticks and a stoplight. In 2015, the Keller Bros. Ford dealership sponsored a Mustang ice sculpture. Every year, visitors are welcome to sit on a huge ice throne. "Other [sculptures] are pieces of art," Rissmiller said.

Chris Sensenich, owner of Main Street Peddler, is sponsoring an ice sculpture with State Farm insurance agent Mark Hough. This year their ice sculpture will be an alligator. She said, "We've done other things in the past. This year it's an alligator, to represent where I was born, in Florida."

Chili, barbecue, funnel cakes

In addition to the ice sculptures, several food trucks will be lining the park and the streets, selling barbecue, burgers, funnel cakes and more. Local stores, restaurants and brewpubs will be open for the four-day festival.

When it's time to warm up, visit Warwick High School on Saturday for the chili cook-off. Amateur cooks and professional chefs alike compete for a variety of awards, including the People's Choice grand trophy. Entrance to the chili cook-off is $8 in advance and $10 at the door. Adjacent to the cook-off is an indoor carnival, with pay-as-you-go games and activities, and a free vendor fair.

The cook-off is about more than just chili, however. "Each chef is raising money and awareness for a charity of their choice," Rissmiller said. Patrons vote not only for their favorite chili, but also for their favorite charity. She continues, "We are very involved in the community and realize that people want to give back."

Dodgeball, movies and more

On Sunday, a dodgeball tournament takes place in the Warwick High School gym, with a $2 admission fee and free parking at the school. A free community movie night caps off the day at Linden Hall, including a family-friendly film, snacks and crafts.

Monday, the last day of the festival, the ice sculptures will be displayed for visitors. "It's a quiet day to wander around, and look at the ice sculptures before heading home," Rissmiller said.

The Lititz LEO Club, a group of middle and high school students, who are sponsored by the Lititz Lions Club, hosts the Lititz Fire & Ice Festival. Every member of the Lititz LEO Club is required to work the festival, sometimes even getting their family members involved. One of the club's objectives is to contribute to their community. "That's what the kids are learning," Rissmiller said, "to give back."

Dawn Rissmiller said Lititz easily attracted visitors from spring through fall, but the winter season proved to be challenging. "I used to be a shop owner, and I formed a group, Lititz Women in Business." The group brainstormed ideas to keep tourists coming to Lititz year-round, and came up with the Lititz Fire & Ice Festival. "The town is tremendous," she says. "It's nice to give [visitors] a taste of the town over winter."

The Lititz Fire & Ice Festival grows every year, attracting thousands of people, no matter the weather. Rissmiller affirms, "This event has brought them out in the snow, the cold or even sixty degrees."

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If you go

5 - 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12: Party in the Park at Lititz Springs Park, admission is free.

11 a.m. - 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13: Chili cook-off at Warwick High School, purchase admission buttons for $8 before the festival at Bombergers Store, Dosie Dough and the Lititz Stauffer's of Kissell Hill, or $10 at the door. Indoor carnival and vendor fair admission are free.

Sunday, Feb. 14: 1 - 5 p.m. dodgeball tournament at Warwick High School, admission $2.  6 - 7 p.m., crafts and food at Linden Hall, admission is free. 7 p.m., Community movie night at Linden Hall, admission is free.

All day Monday, Feb. 15: See the ice sculptures all day at Lititz Springs Park, admission is free.

Details: Parking is available on the street and at Warwick High School.

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