Tuesday was the first day of the skating season at the Baranof Ice Rink. KMXT went out on the ice to talk to excited return skaters, and find out about Parks and Recreation’s big plans for the facility.
Despite the blustery wind and rain, a few dozen Kodiak residents turned out for opening day at the Baranof Ice Rink on Tuesday, excited to be back on the ice after the seven-month hiatus.
“I’m super excited,” 13-year old Hannah McCarthy said before stepping on the ice. “I do hockey, so I get to be on the ice a lot.”
McCarthy was at the rink Tuesday morning along with a bunch of other school-age kids, enjoying their time off on a school district in-service day. She got to do a bit of summer skating at a hockey camp in Anchorage, but she had to wait along with everyone else for Kodiak’s rink to open up again for the winter.
“I wish it was year-round because then I’d be here all the time,” she added.
Part of the reason it’s not open year-round is that the rink isn’t indoors. It’s covered by a thin roof, but the sides are mostly left open. On days like these, 40 degrees and stormy, it actually feels warmer on the ice, where skaters are shielded from most of the wind by the plexiglass panels surrounding the rink. Step off the ice and you’re likely to get some rain blown into your face.
Parks and Recreation has proposed an $1.8 million project to revamp the facility — adding a walking track, changing rooms and skate rentals. The biggest upgrade? Enclosing the rink so it’s fully indoors.
Holding her young daughter in her arms, Lia Sanford said she supports the project. “Especially for parents like me with young kids, it’s really hard to keep them warm and entertained at the hockey rink,” she said. “I mean, we bundle them up and we make it work, but it would be so much easier if it was enclosed.”
Sanford is a hockey mom who comes to the rink often to watch her two sons skate. She says even if Parks and Recreation has to do the project in stages, she’s for it. “Absolutely. Every little bit helps.”
Bad weather makes it difficult on skaters too. 15-year-old Alana Schoenwether and 13-year-old Sierra O’Quinn remember the less-than-ideal skating conditions in years past. “It was raining, and the rain was coming down and making big puddles on the ice,” Shoenwether said, leaning against the boards. O’Quinn chimed in, “They used to have to put cones around puddles. And they didn’t really fix it.”
Director of Parks and Recreation Corey Gronn said enclosing the rink has been on the department’s to-do list for awhile. Making ice for the rink last week, Gronn said they ran into issues with the high winds.
“I think last Thursday it was blown about 40 [miles per hour] or so, 35-40 [miles per hour]. And dirt gets blown in there,” he said. “Days like today where it gets really, really windy with rain, it kind of blows underneath.”
Gronn said he’s hoping Parks and Recreation can start construction on the new plans in May of 2021. The project has $100,000 in funding from the Parks capital improvement fund, but that’s less than 10 percent. Funding sources for the remaining $1.7 million haven’t yet been secured.
“That’s not 100% determined yet, but hopefully a lot of fundraising,” he said. “There’s a group of private citizens that are going to go out and hit, you know, they want to hit up local businesses, just local residents, maybe corporate businesses and things like that.”
He says the department also wants to apply to the Rasmuson Foundation and the state Water Conservation Fund for grants to help with funding.
Gronn said it’s unlikely that the upgrades will significantly increase usage revenue for the facility. Last year was already its busiest season ever at nearly 30,000 visits to the rink, and he anticipates another packed season.
Instead, he said, it’s more about improving the experience.
“I think our usage will probably stay pretty similar. We only have so many people in on Kodiak,” he said. I guess we have not looked at it from that point of view at this point. Our hope is to improve quality of life for those that are there. If you’re if you’re a spectating fan that comes there on Saturday for your kids game or what have you, you’re enduring all of the elements. And so as far as pay off, maybe we’ll have more spectators.”
Gronn added that the decrease in energy costs with an insulated rink as well as new features like skate sharpening and the elevated walking track could help add to revenue.
For this season, skaters will have to brave a bit of wind and rain to get on the ice. Season passes are available now, and a full calendar of skating events is available on the city’s Parks and Recreation website.
Correction: An earlier version of this article reported a skater’s name as “Heather McCarthy.” Her name is Hannah McCarthy.