Dillon inks agreement to bring Ice Castles back for 2020-21 winter
DILLON — Residents and visitors once again will be able to enjoy the glittering spires and illuminated tunnels of the Dillon ice castles this year.
The Dillon Town Council unanimously approved a one-year contract with Ice Castles during a regular meeting Tuesday night, allowing the group to return to Town Park next month to construct the town’s biggest winter attraction.
While some residents expressed concerns about the castles’ impact on residential areas and raised questions about its future beyond this season, council members felt the attraction would help community members and local businesses bounce back after a tough year.
“People want to be outside; they want to have something to do,” council member Jen Barchers said. “This is a great opportunity for us to capitalize after a rough summer for everyone. So as much as I hear some of the citizen feedback, I think this is a good thing for our town at this time.”
This will be the fourth year the castles are set up in Dillon. Earlier this year, the town began conversations with Ice Castles representatives about potentially coming to a long-term agreement that would keep the company in town for the coming years. But imminent improvements to Town Park have complicated talks.
Dillon was set to begin construction on a string of new features at the park this summer, including a multiuse field on the south side of the park, where the ice castles have been built in past years. Kerstin Anderson, the town’s marketing and communication’s director, said there were discussions about a “gap year” for the attraction while officials ironed out plans with the company to incorporate a new layout for the castles on the north side of the park moving forward.
But the town pushed the park improvements back a year after the onset of the pandemic, which opened the door for Ice Castles to return on a one-year contract while talks for an extension continue.
Ice Castles will be permitted to start running water to build the attraction next month and will be able to stay on-site until May 15. The contract is similar to past years but requires the company to pay an increased water rate this year.
While the ice castles serve as an annual boon to businesses in town, others have expressed that crowds from the attraction often create unintended consequences for residents in the area.
Barb Richard, speaking on behalf of the recently formed Dillon Neighborhood Coalition, voiced that castle visitors parking in residential areas has been a problem for locals the past couple of years, and she said it is time for the town to look at alternative options to activate the park during winter.
“The summer visitors demonstrated in great numbers that what they care about is convenient parking next to their destination, no matter if parking spaces exist there or if their actions create safety hazards,” Richard said. “Residential neighborhoods have already seen this behavior at Tenderfoot and LaBonte in the winter with the existing ice castles. Moving the ice castles to the north will only put more pressure on the residential neighborhoods. … Additional ideas should be pursued. Let the community decide how it wants the Town Park to be used. … After this year, it is time to let Ice Castles go elsewhere.”
Of note, while talks with Ice Castles remain ongoing for the future, Dillon officials are actively taking steps to help make the attraction more palatable for frustrated residents.
Anderson said there already were plans being put into place to install new signs for event parking — and several that prohibit parking — and that the town is working with Ice Castles to update its website map with more specific parking information. Mayor Carolyn Skowyra expressed that she’d also like to partner with Ice Castles to install more permanent signage in the area that would guide visitors down Lake Dillon Drive for parking and away from residential areas.
Officials say that directing traffic to the town core instead of residential areas also would serve local businesses better.
“It helps the experience, and it gets people parking down in that area where they’re more likely to spend money at the businesses,” council member Steve Milroy said.
Anderson said Ice Castles would be making some changes to its operating guidelines this year to promote social distancing within the attraction. The castles will be capped at 175 people at a time, and there will be one-way traffic through the castles to make sure visitors aren’t bunching together or bouncing around to areas they’ve already seen.
“With the uncertainly of COVID we continue to live under, anything we can do to help businesses and help the town continue to operate is a good idea,” Milroy said. “So I definitely support doing another year of the ice castles.”
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