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Rink think

May 5, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Riverton has no public ice skating area outdoors, but volunteers and city rec leaders plan to change that

Decades ago in Riverton, many local children would spend their winter weekends skating on improvised ice rinks throughout the city. The cement lot at Sunset Park would be flooded, and the swimming pool at City Park became a hub of skating activity. The locally famous Davis Pond was on private property in west Riverton, but it drew big crowds of skaters all winter long.

"That's what kids did - we'd drive our bikes to the swimming pool at City Park and spend all afternoon there," resident Lars Flanagan said.

Now he tries to recreate those memories for his own children, but Flanagan said his and many other families often end up driving to Lander to skate.

"The one ice skating rink we have is being used - and gladly so," Flanagan said, referring to the indoor facility maintained by the Riverton Ice Hockey Association on Smith Road in Riverton.

Plus, he continued, Lander has ice skates available to rent, so families that can't afford to buy their own equipment still can enjoy the winter pastime.

"It's just very convenient," he said. "If we could pull it off like Lander did, I think it'd be great."

The R Recreation office at Central Wyoming College is working to build a public skating rink at the Riverton Junior Football League field at Major Avenue and Sunset Drive. Recreation activities coordinator Mary Axthelm said the idea came from parents who wanted to make ice skating available to more Riverton residents.

R Rec already has hosted two Family Skate Night events at the RIHA facility, and last year Axthelm's group purchased 83 pairs of skates for attendees to rent. But she said the community is looking for something more.

"Several parents (asked), 'Why can't we do this on a regular basis? We need to have our own rink, and it would be fun if we could have open skate all the time,'" Axthelm recalled. "I thought, 'We need to take this a step further.'"

She met with junior football president Brett Watson and asked what he would think about turning his field into a skating rink that could be open all day, every day, in the wintertime.

"He said, 'Yeah let's give it a shot,'" Axthelm said.

Next, she brought the proposal to City Hall, where streets and alleys supervisor Paul Throckmartin shared his experience maintaining local skating rinks.

"He knew what worked well and what didn't, (and he knew) the troubles they had around a project like that," she said. "From that, Brett and I came up with a plan that would cover all of the problems they had in the past."

The solution was to build a rink with a liner that will keep the field's grass and sprinkler system from being damaged. Axthelm said she already has a model in mind.

"It's a little kit," she said. "You assemble it, put the liner down, build it, and fill it."

The result won't be so little: Axthelm said the rink she has chosen is 112 feet by 212 feet and costs more than $12,000.

"It's going to be big," Axthelm said. "Our intent was to fill the entire junior football field."

The RJFL will donate lighting on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, she said, and the group's concessions stand will be available for sales. The city will assemble and maintain the ice, according to CWC, and funding will come through grants, local donations and the Fremont County School District 25 Recreation Board.

The RIHA is supportive of the rink idea, too. Hockey group president Lee Hanson said it seems clear that there is demand for a public rink in Riverton considering the popularity of R Rec's Family Skate Night, which drew more than 100 participants this year. And aside from the annual event, Hanson said his rink is occupied almost constantly.

"(Local schools) use it during the day for P.E. classes when we have ice," he said. "Other people are down there sometimes on weekends or even after school."

If a hockey team needs to practice, though, the public is asked to clear out. That happens just about every weekday afternoon.

"We take care of the place, so we kind of run the place," Hanson said. "I think there would be a lot more time for people to skate (on a public rink), if they just wanted to leisure skate."

He is concerned that the effort will be more problematic than Axthelm is anticipating, however. Hanson said the RIHA tried to use a liner one year.

"It's probably rotten now," he said. "It's been rolled up lying out beside that old semi trailer. It didn't seem to work for us - seemed like it took longer for (the ice) to freeze."

Forming a decent layer of ice will be the biggest challenge for R Rec, he predicted, especially since the air temperature at the RJFL field tends to be five to 10 degrees warmer than at his rink.

"If you don't have it covered, the way the weather is around here it's hard to keep ice," Hanson said.

Local parent Lynn Mullinix also is concerned about the upkeep of the rink, but she thinks it would be worth the effort to provide a public skating facility for Riverton youth.

"I think it's going to be a lot of work, and there may even be loss of funds, but we still have to do something," she said. "Lander's got it - why can't we?"

Like Flanagan, Mullinix usually takes her family to Lander to skate when the RIHA facility isn't available, and she knows a handful of other people who do the same.

"It becomes a big event ... versus more of a daily thing," she said.

Axthelm hopes a rink in Riverton will allow city residents to recreate more locally in the winter, while also making skating available to people who can't make the trek over to Lander.

She already can picture the future rink in use at the RJFL field.

"You can see it from Sunset Drive and just look over there and see people skating," she said. "How cool it will be."

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