Eccles Ice Center to host New Year’s Eve party

A little more than a month ago, some residents of Cache Valley approached the staff of the George S. Eccles Ice Center. They wanted to find a place that would be willing to host a New Year’s Eve celebration that would be appropriate for families.

“They asked us if our facility could be used,” said Deidri Nielson, program development specialist of the Eccles Ice Center. “We thought it would be a great idea.”

With less than a month to go until December 31, there are now plans in place for a party that includes three bands, ice skating and a number of different activities.

“We’re going to put down a portion of our temporary floor over the ice so there can be ice skating as well as dancing to live band music,” Nielson said. “We’re arranging to get a bounce house and we’re going to put a Disney movie on for kids so there’s entertainment for the whole family.”

Floyd Naegle, executive director of the Eccles Ice Center, said this party will be the only one of its kind in the area.

“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of New Year’s Eve parties out there that offer an experience for adults and kids,” Naegle said. “I just think it is a diverse type event.”

The party starts at 7 p.m. and will cost $10 per person. Food provided by Café Sabor will be available for an additional $10 for adults and $7 for children. Nielson said she is hoping to make this an annual event and expects a large crowd.

“We are hoping for hundreds,” Nielson said. “But we have no idea how many are going to show up. This year is our first time so we don’t know. We’re campaigning in every possible way we can to encourage hundreds of people to show up.”

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Men’s Acappella Chorus of Cache Valley performing Christmas shows

Ben Burt has tried to start different singing groups in the past, but for one reason or another they failed. In May he helped to start the Men’s Acappella Chorus of Cache Valley. He said he finally feels that he has a dedicated, enthusiastic group of singers and some momentum. The group has seven scheduled performances in the month of December alone.

“I thought that we’d have less performances than we’ve had,” Burt said. “We’ve got quite a few performances coming up. I wasn’t that optimistic. I thought maybe we’d do one or two for Christmas and then we’d have to just carol to people.”

Burt said that a challenge for starting groups like this is finding enough singers. One of the reasons he said he has been able to recruit singers is because of the people he met when he joined the American Festival Chorus.

“The majority of our group is made up of members of the American Festival Chorus,” Burt said. “Not everybody. There’s a few that came other ways.”

But the chorus is still looking for more singers.

“The biggest problem is actually getting enough voices of the right ranges,” said Jonathan Choate, a member of the chorus. “We are extremely heavy on low voices. We need some high tenors.”

Burt said he is optimistic about the future of the group.

“We’re small. We’re not very well known yet,” Burt said. “We’re trying to get our name out there and also try to schedule some concerts so people can see us and get to know us. That’s always a difficulty. Otherwise all you’re doing is rehearsing.”

Choate said he would like to see the group have success stay around for a long time.

“I’d like to see it be a little bit self-sustaining,” Choate said. “There’s a few that are the drivers of the group, pushing it along, providing a little bit of leadership. I’d like to see it reach a point where it sustains itself.”

The group’s main performance will be the Colors of Christmas concert on Dec. 15 at the Why Sound venue in Logan.

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Pizza Pie Cafe hosts food drive

Every November, Pizza Pie Cafe hosts a food drive for the Utah Food Bank. This November the company had its most successful food drive so far, doubling the donations received last year.

“Our goal was to get 6,000 pounds,” said Sam Ellsworth, manager of Pizza Pie Cafe. “Last year we did 3,000 pounds. I don’t know if we’ll double and go twelve next year but it was good.”

The company primarily advertised the month-long event through Facebook and text messaging. To encourage people to participate, discounts to its all-you-can-eat buffet were given to those who donated.

“We basically said that every can of food is a dollar off,” Ellsworth said. “If you bring in two, you get up to two dollars off. If someone brought in more than that we’d give them a free drink with it.”

Alicia Eliason, an employee of Pizza Pie Cafe, said she was impressed with the response from people this year.

“Some people would bring in whole cases even though they knew they could only get two dollars off,” Eliason said. “A lot of people brought in extra just to help out.”

Ellsworth said that Karaoke Night may have contributed to the drive’s increased success this year. Karaoke Night, which was not around during last year’s food drive, happens every Thursday night after the restaurant’s normal closing hours.

“Karaoke night can get very crazy,” Ellsworth said. “Normally we have at least 200 kids here. It can get up to 400 kids or more sometimes.”

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Lack of snow means smaller elk herd at Hardware Ranch

On December 14, the Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area will begin offering its horse-drawn sleigh rides. The sleigh rides take visitors through an elk herd and have been a winter tradition at Hardware Ranch since 1946, but there is concern that with the warmer weather this year, there will not be as many elk present.

“The more mild the winter, the smaller the herd,” said Marni Lee, assistant manager of Hardware Ranch. “There’s no snow at all so there’s nothing pushing them down. All of their forage is still available to eat on the slopes so they don’t need to stop moving down the mountain until the snow pushes them down.”

Brad Hunt, manager of Hardware Ranch, said that even though the herd might not be as big this year he still expects more than 20,000 visitors.

“This time of year, we already have 100 to 150 elk that are hanging out around the place,” Hunt said. “The more it snows the better it is for us, but we’ll be here whether or not it snows. We have people come up here all the time just to look and drive around.”

The elk pass through Hardware Ranch because it is on their natural migratory path to Cache Valley, but they stay because they are fed, Lee said. And elk aren’t the only animals that come through.

“Elk are kind of our celebrity species. There’s a lot of different animals and different species that utilize the area though,” Hunt said. “We have mule deer. We have moose. We have sage grouse. We have foxes and coyotes. Some bears moved into the area. We have eagles. There’s a lot. We have fish too.”

“We are one of the few locations in the United States where you can get up close and personal with wild elk,” Lee said. “They are not tame. They are not domesticated in any way. There are not many opportunities to be within arms length of an animal.”

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Jenny Oaks Baker and Alexandria Sharpe to perform with American Festival Chorus and Orchestra

The American Festival Chorus and Orchestra will present its annual Christmas from the Ellen Eccles Theatre concert this Friday and Saturday in Logan. This year the concert will feature violinist Jenny Oaks Baker and singer Alexandria Sharpe.

“This year we have two guest artists,” said Craig Jessop, director of the American Festival Chorus. “We have Jenny Oaks Baker and she’s just outstanding. She’s a Utah girl, but lives and works in Washington, D.C. as a violinist. For many years she’s been a member of the National Symphony Orchestra. Soprano Alexandria Sharpe, she’s coming to us from Ireland. She was a member of the group called Celtic Woman and has traveled all over the world.”

Sharpe and Baker will perform with more than 300 musicians in front of a sold out crowd.

“The singers are all volunteers and are members of the community,” Jessop said. “The orchestra are professional players. We pay them. Some come all the way from Salt Lake to play for us.”

Jessop started the American Festival Chorus four years ago and has been doing the annual Christmas concert since.

“It’s really resonated with the community and it’s a really elegant way to bring in the Christmas season,” Jessop said. “I think that it is as high of quality as anything you would find if you drove to a much larger city, such as Salt Lake City or Denver or anyplace else. I’m really proud of the organization and what they’ve been able to do.”

The American Festival Chorus has had a lot of success and has become very popular in its four years in Cache Valley, said Wally Bloss, executive director of the Ellen Eccles Theatre.

“They’ve got a strong following,” Bloss said. “Craig Jessop has got what I call star power in Utah. He’s the former director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He grew up in Cache Valley. If he’s involved in something, there are automatically a lot of people that show up.”

Jessop said that he is happy for what the American Festival Chorus has accomplished so far.

“This choir doesn’t have the wonderful support system either financially or otherwise that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has and yet the quality of music I think is comparable,” Jessop said. “I’m really proud of what they’ve been able to do.”

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Local dance teacher, Erica Colvin, bringing new dance styles to Cache Valley

When Erica Colvin moved to Cache Valley in 2010 she found that there wasn’t a lot of diversity in the local dancing scene. She had just moved from Los Angeles where she had been studying salsa dancing for eight years and had been working as an instructor in a dance studio.

“The only dancing in the area was country swing, which I wasn’t crazy about back then,” Colvin said. “I was just thinking that if I’m going to live here, there needs to be some diversity.”

Colvin started the FreeStyle Dance Company in May 2010 with help from Justin Bayles, a friend she met after moving to Cache Valley.

“Our goal is to raise the level of dancing in Cache Valley,” Colvin said. “I want all ages to feel welcome here. It appeals to a lot of different age groups. I want to keep building that.”

The company includes two performance teams for high school students and four performance teams for adults. It also hosts different dancing events for the public every week. One of the most popular events is the Salsa Dancing Night.

“Every Tuesday night we throw a Salsa party from ten until midnight,” Colvin said. “When we first started our salsa party had six people in it and now we get between 50 and 100 people a night. It’s definitely growing.”

Before the salsa party starts, Colvin teaches a dancing class that is held from 9:15 to 10 p.m. to help those who don’t know how to dance get ready for the party.

“It’s really fun to come learn how to salsa dance,” said Callie Godfrey, who works at the FreeStyle Dance Company. “Erika is a good instructor. It’s a really good atmosphere.”

Throughout the week, hip hop, country swing and other styles are also taught.

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Crystal Hot Springs attracting more people as weather gets colder

With the weather getting colder, many Cache Valley residents and Utah State University students are making their way over the mountains to the small town of Honeyville, Utah to relax at Crystal Hot Springs.

According to Peter Stacey, one of the managers of the hot springs, many people come to get out of the cold or just to relieve stress.

“I love it here in the winter,” Stacey said. “It’s my favorite time to go. It brings in a lot of people from the University, especially after finals. It does help relieve stress and I think that’s partly why they come.”

Stacey said it also has a unique social atmosphere.

“Most places you go there is always kind of a bubble where no one talks to anyone and everyone keeps to themselves. It’s not the same at hot springs. Everyone talks to everyone. It’s just a really friendly, relaxing place to come.”

The hot springs have been utilized for hundreds of years. Native Americans lived at the springs during the winter and Chinese workers used them while constructing the Transcontinental Railroad. They were used by the United States government during World War II to help wounded soldiers recover.

“If you go up on the mountains you will find damage from the springs on the rocks all the way up the mountain. So this water has been coming up since before the mountain has,” Stacey said. “There is so much history here. There aren’t a lot of places like it. You come here and you are one of millions of people who have been doing this in the whole history of this area.”

Crystal Hot Springs is unique from other hot springs in several different ways. It has a high mineral content and is one of only two in the world that has a cold spring within 50 feet of a hot spring, which allows the employees and owners nearly complete control of the water temperature. The other is in Peru.

“We have the highest mineral content that has ever been tested in the entire world,” said employee Josslyn Echard.

“We have 46,000 parts per million,” Stacey said. “Compare that to Lava Hot Springs and it’s 29 times higher than them.”

According to Stacey, the high mineral content of the water has many health benefits.

“I had an injury a couple of years ago,” Stacey said. “Every once in a while I’d get in the water. There is lithium in the water that works as a muscle relaxer. My pain would go away. I swear by it.”

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