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Okoboji prepares for 44th Winter Games

ARNOLDS PARK, Iowa (KCAU) – The Iowa Great Lakes area is preparing for its 44th annual Winter Games, a tradition that started in 1980 when a group of people wanted a way to fight cabin fever. 

“We’re really known for being a summer destination, and so to show people that we’re a great place to live, work and play all year round is a great thing for us,” said Iowa Great Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce Director of Marketing & Events Kiley Zankowski.  

The University of Okoboji Winter Games are a longstanding tradition that take place on top of the frozen Okoboji lake. However, with the warmer winter Iowa has had, residents were worried that some of the events may not be safe to participate in.  

“We’re finding areas of 14 inches of ice and right next to it as little as four inches of ice,” Zankowski said. “So safety is our main concern, and all of our events where they’re located are perfectly fine for the foot traffic required for them and the crowds that are required for them.” 

With more than 100 different events spanning four days, planning the Winter Games takes a full year. 

“It takes an entire community, so we really want to thank our community for coming together, all the businesses and volunteers,” Zankowski said. “Us here at the chamber, we’re a staff of three so we really rely on a whole army of volunteers that come together to make all the events happen.”  

With 30,000 to 40,000 visitors coming to participate in and watch the Winter Games, businesses in the area thrive.  

“It’s, for a lot of businesses, bigger than the Fourth of July,” Zankowski said. “So it’s a huge event for our area both economically and for people to just have morale. It’s a great way to escape cabin fever, have a ton of fun and invite people to our area.” 

Events kick off Thursday with the Battle of the Bartenders at Parks Marina.

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