An ice promise finally fulfilled: Local fundraising guarantees refrigeration for Winthrop ice rink —

An ice promise finally fulfilled: Local fundraising guarantees refrigeration for Winthrop ice rink

By Don Nelson
Methow Valley News

A long-time dream that began years ago with a backyard rink, expanded to a public rink near the Winthrop Barn and later took more permanent form with the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink (WISR), is about to reach fruition.

Permanent refrigeration — which means real ice for many months during any winter at the outdoor rink — is coming to WISR this year, thanks to an ambitious local fundraising effort to match a state grant that will help finance the new facilities.

Laurie Ulmer, chair of the local fundraising efforts, said this week that a final push for local cash and in-kind donations of work and materials topped the imposing goal of $497,000.

Design of the new facilities — which will include the refrigeration equipment and extension of the existing building for expanded office/rental space, changing areas and public restrooms — is underway, and construction will begin later this year to complete the project in time for the 2015-16 winter season.

Refrigeration equipment will allow the rink to be open about 115 days a year and make it possible to stage many more events such as hockey tournaments.

“It’s a guarantee that we will have some kind of winter recreation here no matter what,” said Kristen Smith, who wears many hats — or stocking caps — associated with the rink. She is on the board of the nonprofit group that operates the rink for the Town of Winthrop, is on the local fundraising committee, and is marketing director for both the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce and Methow Trails.

Smith said refrigeration will allow scheduling of more hockey tournaments, which have drawn hundreds of competitors and visitors — notably from Canada — in the past. This past winter, a scheduled youth tournament was canceled due to warm weather and unsuitable ice, costing the community thousands of dollars in visitor revenue.

In other seasons, the rink could be used for roller skating or other outdoor gatherings.

Rink Manager Sharla Lynn said earlier that the rink was open for 39 days this past winter and drew nearly 4,300 visitors.

WISR got a big boost in its fundraising efforts a few months ago when the Winthrop Town Council agreed to a request from the town’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee to use $75,000 from Winthrop’s hotel/motel tax revenues to move the ice rink project closer to its local goal, and the fundraising committee pushed hard to generate the last $60,000 needed to match the state grant.

The Town of Winthrop, which owns the rink, earlier received a $497,000 grant from the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office toward the refrigeration project. Local donations will include $70,000 worth of in-kind labor and materials and a portion of the $170,000 bequest made to the rink by the late Red McComb.

Jill Calvert, chairman of the nonprofit board that operates the rink for the town said this week, “I am so proud of our fundraising committee, our community, our donors and our board of directors for supporting this incredibly awesome project. Bring it on!”

Other members of the fundraising committee in addition to Ulmer and Smith are Bo Thrasher, Paul Butler and Vicki Caldwell. The WISR board of directors includes, in addition to Calvert and Smith, Jeff Lyman, Rick Mills, Melissa Robbins, Ann Sprague and Marc Robertson.

Long history

In a press release, Ulmer recalled the long history of local attempts to create ice skating venues. Local resident Anne Joslin’s homemade rink drew so many skaters and hockey players that a larger site was needed, Ulmer said.

The Odenthall family on the West Chewuch Road allowed skaters on their natural ponds, Ulmer said, but “weather-induced irregularities in the ice and snow build up made skating there dangerous. It was at this point that several enthusiasts set about to establish a larger, more reliable and safer ice rink.”

An agreement with the Town of Winthrop allowed installation of a seasonal rink near the Winthrop Barn in 1997.

“Volunteers set the rink up yearly, maintained it, and then took it down at the end of the short season,” Ulmer said. WISR was also born at the same time, she said. It was clear that a better, more permanent facility was needed.

“In 2003, WISR, under the visionary guidance of Marc Robertson and in conjunction with the Town of Winthrop, secured a $395,000 matching grant from the state to build such a facility,” Ulmer said. “Research on similar facilities began but it wasn’t until the Belsby family kindly agreed to sell 1.5 acres to WISR that the project seemed attainable. Fundraising began in earnest and was obtained by spring of 2007 through many generous donors. During the summer of 2007 Marc, along with innumerable volunteers, created the rink and building you see today at the Town Trailhead.”

The total cost for the first phase of the project was $801,000. The final phase will cost nearly $1 million including the state and local contributions. The rink now offers a skate changing area, skate rentals, classes, public restrooms, concessions, and a second-story warming and viewing room with ping pong tables.

Robertson will be the local overseer of volunteer work on the project (for a list of ways to help and contribute, see Robertson’s “My Turn” article on page A4 of this week’s newspaper).

“We still need the community’s help to make this dream a reality,” Ulmer said. “Over $70,000 of our budget is dependent on in-kind labor and materials donations.”

WISR will continue to solicit cash donations to help with other anticipated needs and expenses, Ulmer said. Donations can be made on the WISR website,www.winthropicerink.com, using a credit card or PayPal account, or by sending a check to WISR at P.O. Box 1262, Winthrop, WA 99862.

Read the complete story at Methow Valley News
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