Ice Castles pitches future plans amid pushback from Dillon residents

People enjoy the Dillon Ice Castles on opening night Dec. 28, 2019.
Photo by Liz Copan / Summit Daily archives

DILLON — Ice Castles has a new conceptual plan for what the attraction could look like under a long-term agreement with the town of Dillon. But the castles’ future at Town Park remains uncertain with numerous community members voicing strong opposition to offering up the park down the line.

Earlier this month, Dillon entered into a one-year agreement with Utah-based Ice Castles to bring the attraction back to Town Park this winter for its fourth iteration. Conversations with the Ice Castles organization have continued as the group seeks a lasting agreement.

Obstacles remain to getting a deal done, including well over $1 million in renovations to Town Park set for 2021 and considerable pushback from residents who’d rather see the amenity relocated off the park entirely. But Ice Castles is hoping its new plan will do enough to ease public concerns. 

“I’ve been working on it for some time, going back and forth with the town and Ice Castles, and we’re really pleased with the current layout,” said Pedro Campos, a landscape architect with Zehren and Associates hired by Ice Castles to lead planning efforts. “We tried to optimize some of the operational aspects for the ice castles, and in the summer it preserves a great opportunity that exists at this park for recreation.”

Campos walked council members through the new concept during a work session Tuesday evening, highlighting new additions based on town and community feedback. The plan is to move the Ice Castles attraction to the north end of the park to leave the incoming multiuse field undisturbed and to extend other amenities down to the center of the park, including ice slides and snow caves.

The entrance to the ice castles amenities still would be on the south side of the park, off Buffalo Street, to try to keep visitors in the town core and parked in the appropriate areas.

The design features a series of paved pedestrian paths surrounding the park meant to help improve connectivity and congestion issues along with internal circulating paths inside the Ice Castles amenities. Other areas like playgrounds and the south end of the park would remain open to the public free of charge, separated by perimeter fencing.

Ice Castles representatives said they’re working on ways to beautify the fencing and create landscape buffers to make the area more attractive and to address other community concerns like drainage, signing and lighting. A new parking plan for the castles is expected to get its own work session discussion in the near future.

The plan also addresses the park layout for summer, featuring a native grass meadow with Alpine flowers on the north end of the park, community gardens off Tenderfoot Street and a basketball court behind the fire station. The design does ax the pickleball courts included in the Town Park master plan adopted in 2016, but most of the features identified in the plan are still included, such as the climbing wall, playground areas and dual-use pavilion.

Overall, the newest plan represents a work-in-progress update for town officials, with a goal of gathering feedback to improve the plan and move into pricing estimates.

Community and council feedback

Sean Butson, a representative of the Dillon Neighborhood Coalition, said the group would rather see the ice castles moved off Town Park altogether. The coalition sent numerous emails and letters to council members voicing concerns about traffic, trash, lack of town revenue and damage to the park, among others.

“Over the last week, you received emails representing more than 40 Dillon residents who overwhelmingly oppose not only the proposed Ice Castles move to the north end of the park, but also to them using any portion of the park moving forward,” Butson said.

Council members were split on the new proposal. Kyle Hendricks questioned whether allowing Ice Castles to add new paid amenities to the park would benefit the town as well as the merits of shifting the castles to the north end of the park.

“Why would we put the busiest event the county has at night on the north end of the park, the farthest away from any parking?” Hendricks said. “…That’s only going to upset anyone going to it … and the whole neighborhood. There’s traffic on Tenderfoot and on that whole north side we’re trying to avoid. It’s only going to make more problems.”

Council member Steven Milroy said he’s struggled to see the economic benefit the castles have to offer, especially given the damage done to the park in recent years. 

“If there’s truly $7 (million) to $10 million in economic benefit, shouldn’t we see that reflected clearly in sales tax and lodging tax increases?” Milroy said. “I just don’t see the economic benefit that is claimed out of this. The park has been unusable. This year, especially, it’s dead. We’ve taken a beautiful park, and we’ve killed it.”

The Ice Castles site pictured Oct. 22 at Dillon Town Park.
Sawyer D’Argonne /

Ice Castles last season conducted an economic impact survey at the Colorado location in which visitors answered questions surrounding hotel stays and restaurant visits. Of about 250 on-site respondents, almost 70% said they were staying in a hotel and more than 75% said they’d visited local restaurants. The numbers worked out to an estimated $4.6 million boost to local businesses. Town staff is also working on a more comprehensive economic analysis of the Ice Castles for a future meeting.

Other council members voiced more optimism after seeing the presentation.

“All the letters that came in are very legitimate,” said council member Renee Imamura. “(Ice Castles) is trying to handle and resolve all those issues. No matter what they do, if we bring an ice rink in or other winter activities, you’re going to have issues. Those are just things we’re going to have to work through to figure out. I really like this presentation.”

Council member Jen Barchers asked the council to look at the bigger picture regarding the town’s identity.

“This has been around for a while now, and we did see huge benefits,” Barchers said. “I know that between that and the businesses that have said to us they would not be here if not for Ice Castles, there is another part to this story. And we do need to consider all of that, and the residents who do like having this around. … For so many years the thing was, ‘We need life in Dillon, we need revitalization in Dillon.’ And we have to keep that in mind.”

A final decision on whether Dillon will move forward on an extended contract with Ice Castles likely won’t be reached for some time. In addition to ongoing planning efforts, Mayor Carolyn Skowyra promised more opportunities for public input.

“Hopefully, we can get all of our concerns addressed before we even consider making a decision on this,” Skowyra said.

New winter ideas

Marketing and Communications Director Kerstin Anderson provided council members with a look at some new ideas for possible winter events and activations to provide residents with better outdoor access in the future.

Among the concepts were an ice rink, paid light exhibit, snow play attractions and the grooming of new trails for snowshoeing and Nordic skiing. While some of the attractions are cost prohibitive for now — namely a $250,000 ice rink or $600,000 light exhibit — officials voiced enthusiasm at more local-friendly attractions like snowman contests at Town Park or new trails at the Dillon Marina.

Anderson said the town expects to find out in about a month whether it will receive a Greater Outdoors Colorado grant that would help fund the grooming equipment for trails.

“We’ve talked about creating trails on the reservoir that perhaps connect with the nature preserve and grooming a trail along the disc golf course adjacent to the cemetery,” Anderson said. “There are opportunities for people to cross-country ski, snowshoe and just get out. I think that’s really helpful this year as we think about COVID and the impacts of our outdoor spaces. How do we elevate some of our outdoor locations and get people out to amenities that we haven’t leveraged as much in the winter?”

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