Damage to Town Park could put return of Dillon Ice Castles at risk | SummitDaily.com

Damage to Town Park could put return of Dillon Ice Castles at risk

At over 30 feet tall, the luminous Ice Castle at the Town Park was a difficult sight to miss for anyone venturing through Dillon last winter, and certainly one worth visiting. But concerns about major damage to the park have raised doubts as to whether the castles will be returning.

"In every measurable way in the moment, this thing was a success," said Louis Skowyra, a representative of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee (PRAC). "It was huge and beautiful, and people were coming up from the Front Range with no other reason to come to Dillon. It was great for businesses, and there was life in our Town Park, which is something we had tried to do for years in the winter.

"But the message we have at the PRAC is when considering these events, we have to consider the negative impacts and we have to consider the fact that if you invite thousands of people up, there might be some trampling going on even in the winter."

The castles, built in Dillon for the first time last year by a company out of Utah, were created as a means to activate the park during the winter, a longstanding goal of the PRAC. The move paid off dramatically, pulling tens of thousands of visitors to Dillon to see the attraction.

But what goes up must come down, and the structures were significant. As reported by the Summit Daily News in February, the operation used about 300,000 gallons of water a day while building the attraction, and between 10 and 30 thousand a day in maintenance. The resulting melt wreaked havoc.

"There were tons of ice melting on the grass," said Skowyra. "It was that simple. It was erosion, water damage, and a lot of trash left behind. I know it was quite a burden on the public works department. I know they had a couple days picking up trash, rerouting water and trying to mop up the field. For a month or two during the spring, where normally you could be out there throwing Frisbees or walking your dog, it was a disaster zone."

According to Dillon Finance Director Carri McDonnell, public works spent about 230 man-hours repairing the park. Public Works director Scott O'Brien couldn't be reached for comment.

The CEO of Utah-based Ice Castles, LLC, Ryan Davis, said the damage is atypical of their attractions. He noted that while most municipalities who contract ice castles simply let the ice melt naturally, Dillon chose to bring in dump trucks to haul ice off the park, which he said could have contributed to the damage.

"There's not typically an issue," explained Davis. "Normally we don't haul the ice off, we just let it melt…One thing is that you never know exactly how things are going to work out until you've done it. So usually after the first season there are some really obvious things we can correct that you just don't know about until you do it."

Of course the damage will have to be weighed against the boom that businesses saw during the winter. Dillon had a 31-percent sales tax increase in January, a 15.3 percent increase in February and a 17.2 percent increase in March, according to McDonnell.

While the ice castles obviously made a mark on businesses in Dillon, its unclear just how much of that can be attributed to the attraction as opposed to new businesses in town and the overall strength of the economy.

"It's difficult to say how much is directly related to the ice castles versus the economy or growth in our area," said McDonnell. "But what we heard from our business community in the town center is that they were up 25 to 30 percent. So we know that there was some increase, at least in the Town Center, from the ice castles."

There will be a full analysis of the ice castles' economic impact presented to the town council sometime in August.

Despite the damage, and some resistance from a number of PRAC members, this winter may prove the perfect opportunity to try again. The town is years deep into a new Dillon Town Park Master Plan, and with adoption looming, construction will likely begin next spring.

That means that this winter could serve to see if they can implement the ice castles in a manner that doesn't harm the park.

"You could look at it through one lens where we've got one more winter where it doesn't really matter what happens out there because we're going to be tearing it out next spring anyways," said Skowyra.

But with millions in new investments planned for the park, it may be difficult for the council to approve anything that could damage it going forward.

"I speak for myself," said Skowyra. "But what I hear from the advisory committee is that Parks and Rec would not be supportive of any project that would have as negative an impact on the parks as the ice castles did. I think people would have a really hard time every spring dealing with a trashed park. And certainly, after putting millions of dollars into the park like we will over the next couple years, we wouldn't support that on a brand new town park."

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