International Falls and Colorado town battle over "Icebox" title

International Falls
International Falls has long called itself the "Icebox of the Nation." Until recently, no- one noticed a federal trademark on the moniker expired. Now, Fraser, Colo. has filed a trademark application, reopening a decades-old dispute between the two towns.
Image courtesy of Rainy Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

International Falls has recorded the coldest temperatures in the country dozens of times over the past few years. If you ask the people there, they'll say there's no question who has the right to be called "Icebox of the Nation."

Mayor Shawn Mason says it's what the community is known for.

Shawn Mason
International Falls Mayor Shawn Mason says the "Icebox of the Nation" title rightfully belongs to her city. Officials in Fraser, Colo. are hoping to get a trademark on the phrase.
MPR file photo

"I believe that it's important to the people who live here," said Mason. "It's something that they are proud of and they see it as part of our heritage."

The icebox title was so much a part of the community's identity that it got a federal trademark in the late 1980s. That trademark expired more than a decade ago. Mason says no one noticed until now.

"It most certainly was a mistake of the City of International Falls," Mason said. "We failed to renew the trademark back in 1996. We are moving forward, and we're going to file for our trademark to get it back. And go through the whole procedure all over again."

People in Fraser, Colo. say the "Icebox of the Nation" title means something to them, too. The town sits in a mountain valley that frequently posts the nation's chilliest temperatures.

Town Manager Jeff Durbin says the town used the icebox phrase as far back as the 1950s. It appears on a welcome sign and in the town's letterhead. Durbin says he discovered last fall that International Falls' trademark expired. He quietly filed an application this month.

We looked at it and said 'Well, gosh, 11 years ago International Falls gave this up. It must not be that important to them anymore. If International Falls isn't going to use it, gosh darn it, let's pick it up.'

"We looked at it and said, 'Well, gosh, 11 years ago International Falls gave this up,'" said Durbin. "'It must not be that important to them anymore. If International Falls isn't going to use it, gosh darn it, let's pick it up.'"

Being known for frigid cold means more than just bragging rights. It also means money. Both towns have become popular cold weather test sites for auto makers.

This isn't the first squabble between the two communities. Both laid claim to the "Icebox of the Nation" title in the 1980s. Fraser gave up its official claim in 1986, in exchange for $2,000 from International Falls. Durbin says he thinks leaders from both towns are standing tough on the issue -- to a point.

"I don't think that we would want to go to war, so to speak, over something like this," Durbin said. "But community image is something people take seriously. 'This is who we are' is kind of what people say. My impression is, we'll take it seriously, with good humor."

Durbin admits that being known as the coldest spot in the nation has its drawbacks. He says some real estate developers and business owners in Fraser worry the cold weather image undermines marketing efforts.

That kind of talk can be heard in International Falls, too. Local Chamber of Commerce President Kallie Briggs says some business owners there complain the icebox label is a liability. She says that led the Chamber of Commerce this year to change the name of International Falls' annual winter festival from "Icebox Days," to "Blast on the Border."

Briggs says, even so -- with festival events like frozen turkey bowling and the "Freeze Your Gizzard Blizzard Run" -- International Falls will continue to celebrate its cold weather.

"It's not that we're not proud of it," said Briggs. "We've done an excellent job of marketing ourselves to the entire United States and, frankly, some places in the world that we are the 'Icebox of the Nation.' And that title, and our cold temperatures, frankly, have put us on the map. So why wouldn't we be proud of it?"

Technically, there are other U.S. cities that could claim the cold weather badge of honor. Of the list of towns posting the nation's coldest temperatures on the most days since 1995, International Falls and Fraser, Colo. don't even make the top five. The number one spot goes to Stanley, Idaho.

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