The importance of Oak Creek's ice rink Behind the Heads

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Q. What is the history of the ice rink in Oak Creek?

A. In 1993, a group of individuals approached the town of Oak Creek with a plan to install a skating rink on town-owned property off Arthur Street. That first year, the volunteers cleared weeds, leveled dirt and used fire hoses to flood the space to create a simple skating oval with snow banks forming the perimeter. The following year, the town donated $3,000 toward the purchase of treated wood. That season kids from the area started playing informal "pond hockey." In 1994, the Oak Creek Hockey Association was born, and youth teams began play in the Rocky Mountain Youth Hockey League competing against teams from Steamboat, Kremmling and Craig. In 1996, the hockey association in partnership with the town, received a Great Outdoors Colorado grant for $70,000 and with $66,265 matching in-kind contributions of cash, labor and materials constructed the warming hut at a final cost of $136,265.

The next year, a Zamboni ice-resurfacing machine was procured and eventually paid for by the hockey association with the town retaining ownership. And in 1999, another GOCo grant for $64,065 was procured. That along with $46,000 matching in-kind contributions of cash, labor and materials largely from hockey association parents provided for the installation of an asphalt surface and the purchase of fiberglass dasher boards and Plexiglas at a final cost of about $110,065. In total, $134,065 in GOCo grants and volunteer in-kind contributions were leveraged to create a $246,330 skating and hockey facility for the town of Oak Creek.

Q. Who pays for maintenance?

A. Nobody. All of the work necessary for snow removal, flooding, Zamboni maintenance and ice resurfacing is performed by volunteers from the hockey association. This dedication by our volunteers allows us to keep our registration fees extremely low for hockey players and provide public skating free of charge.

Q. What about the problems with vandalism at the rink?

A. While it is true some vandalism has taken place at the rink, I think that problem has been greatly exaggerated. If this damage has been so great, I would like to see copies of police reports filed and the dollar amounts incurred by the town for repairs itemized. I would also like to see the results of the Oak Creek Police Department's investigations of the miscreants (all of the alleged vandalism took place while the old police department still existed). Flying pucks after the end of last hockey season undoubtedly caused some of the broken Plexiglas highlighted in the Pilot's article last week. News flash: Flying hockey pucks damage glass! You can make the case that the hockey association should have been more prompt in replacing these broken panes, but calling that damage vandalism is a falsehood designed to cast the town and the hockey association in the worst possible light. The rink sees informal use in the summer months by local kids as an impromptu skateboard park. While I think the town has the challenge to promote or provide supervised youth activities at this facility when skating activities are not taking place, I think it would be wrong to outlaw unorganized activities. After all, what is the difference between a group of kids skateboarding at the rink and 10 kids playing a pick-up basketball game at the park? Do we as a community feel the need to supervise every child all the time? Or can we sometimes just let them be kids and play? Personally, I would rather run the risk of some minor vandalism than limit the few recreational choices kids in Oak Creek have.

Q. Why does the town and the hockey association have such a difficult time with funding the operations of the ice rink?

A. Let me answer this question by drawing some contrasts with how our rink and the ice rink at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat are operated. Your rink in Steamboat was built with about $5 million in taxpayer dollars and has an annual operating budget shortfall of $100,000 per year offset by taxpayer dollars. Howelsen Ice Arena has the equivalent of seven full-time employees. This does not include any of the expenses of the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association for its youth hockey programs. By contrast, the total budget of the Oak Creek Hockey Association for ice making, snow removal, referees, league dues, registration fees, uniforms, Zamboni maintenance, preseason ice time and the rest is about $16,000 per year. It is no secret that per-capita incomes in South Routt County are less than those in Steamboat, and sales tax revenues pale by comparison, so we must rely upon volunteers to do the work necessary to maintain our programs. Sometimes volunteers don't do as good a job as paid employees.

Q. What do you see in the future for the ice rink?

A. I would like to see another grant process resulting in a roof over the rink. This would eliminate the extremely hard process of snow removal and potentially extend the skating season by as much as 30 days or more. It would eliminate drainage problems (from rain in the summer). In addition, I think a roof would make the rink a much more attractive place for other uses, such as roller blading, concerts, covered basketball courts or even an open-air market. Most importantly, I would like to see the rink become a year-round center for youth activities. I would challenge those individuals who have expressed their concerns over how the rink is managed to roll up their sleeves and become a part of the solutions. We can always put their energy to good use.

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