Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

February 3, 2014

Food coloring brings attention to roadside ice formations

ELKHORN — Plenty of coalfield residents weren’t puzzled at all by the multi-colored ice falls along U.S. Route 52 in McDowell County. The colors on the ice are a result of food coloring on the ice flows.

“People use food coloring to shoot it on the ice with a spray gun,” Sonja O’Neal, of Big Sandy, said. When asked how someone was able to get the coloring on the ice 18 feet above the road, O’Neal said simply: “Have you ever heard of super soaker water guns?”

Adam Grose said that Kool Aid packets work equally well in adding color to the natural beauty of the icefalls that form during the winter on about every cliff in the coalfields. “If you use Kool Aid, just rub it in there real good,” he said.

Sgt. C.F. Kane, detachment commander of the Welch Detachment, West Virginia State Police said that seeing the colorful display on the Elkhorn Mountain ice brought back memories of his youth.

“When I was a kid, we used to drive through McDowell County on our way to see my grandparents in Mingo County,” Kane said. “The colors aren’t pollution, they’re not caused by coal mining and they don’t come from minerals in the ground. It’s food coloring, and it has been a long-standing tradition in southern West Virginia.”

Kane said that, to his knowledge, the tradition had fallen off in recent years, but he was glad to see that someone remembered and colored the ice along Route 52.

“Seeing the colored ice on the cliffs was the highlight on our trips through southern West Virginia,” Kane said. “Some people made some pretty elaborate designs. I remember that someone painted an American flag on the ice hanging over the cliff on old Route 52 right after you crossed the railroad grade crossing at Iaeger,” Kane said. “That was really something.”

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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