BONNERS FERRY — Over the years, Bonners Ferry has seen the weather patterns change. Some years, there is heavy snowfall and colder temperatures, and other years, the winter season was more mild.
The covered basketball court at the Boundary County Fairgrounds has been the location of an annual ice skating rink, weather permitting, where local residents and visitors could gather, strap on their skates, and have a great time in a family oriented environment.
However, due to weather fluctuations, ice maintenance proved to be difficult, and the pastime short lived.
Throughout Boundary County and Bonners Ferry are various groups of people that assist with the well-being of not only residents, but the community as a whole.
“What was before just a stakeholders group evolved into the Steering Committee,” said Lisa Ailport, city administrator. “They asked a number of different representatives across the community to meet once a month, and they formed the Steering Committee to make recommendations on how to spend the grant money. The city was the recipient of the grant, really the administrators of the grant.”
The High Five! Steering Committee includes a variety of local people who represent their various teams. They are Bonners Ferry Mayor David Sims, who is on the committee representing the city; Rob Thompkins, representing the County Parks and Recreation; Amy Robinson, representing the University of Idaho Extension Office; Lauren Kuczka, representing the Boundary Community Hospital; Craig Anderson, representing the Boundary County Library; Gini Woodward, representing the citizens and those of faith; and Gary Pflueger, representing the Boundary County School District.
“We, as part of their technical assistance process, went through, did surveys, we did a shout-out to the community, we asked questions, we met with students, and as a result of that, the formulation of a type of snapshot of our community surfaced,” said Ailport.
The Boundary County Parks and Recreation came up with the ice rink idea, and presented it to the Steering Committee not long after they began meeting.
“It took quite awhile for us to flush out the details of it, and then try to leverage funding, because it was a good chunk of change for our grant,” said Ailport.
As the idea accelerated, it led the group to look into other funds they may be able to leverage, so they waited for Innovia Financial Investments committee to respond after submitting an application. After multiple meetings with the Innovia Foundation, the group continued to try and get them excited about the idea of implementing a synthetic ice rink.
When the funding was approved, the city cut a check for the $42,000, Innovia funded $20,000, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) came in and helped fund the project as well.
“We really had a nice consortium of support groups for the project,” said Ailport. “Most funders, when they want to fund something, like to see that it is supported throughout the community, and our Steering Committee provided that support.”
The Steering Committee has proven to be a needed staple in the community. They provide assistance with not only coming up with community minded ideas, reaching out to the community, and taking community members feedback, but helping everyone involved take the steps to accomplish the final goals.
“Our hope is to have them continue to meet,” said Ailport. “Maybe look to the council and having the committee formalized. The fact that the committee meets and talks about these issues such as how to address childhood obesity in the form of providing access to healthy foods, and through increased activity levels, has proven to be very helpful in leveraging this money that we have gotten.”
In order to maintain an ice rink, the Parks and Recreation team realized they would need a climate controlled facility and the equipment to maintain it. With the weather on the fritz some years, the conditions and costs of maintaining the temporary rink that has been an attraction to the community in past seasons grew to a point that the option of synthetic ice appeared to be in the best interest of everyone.
The team at the Department of Parks and Recreation put their heads together and found a company called KwikRink.
KwikRink is a family-owned company based in Minnesota that saw the need for those that play ice sports mainly consisted of a place to practice in any weather condition.
Natural ice requires upkeep such as flooding the rink and using a zamboni to smooth it out, but the synthetic ice simply requires a flat surface and the assembly of the dovetail puzzle to achieve the goal. Though supplying practice areas was the initial kick off for the company, they have supplied various teams, companies, land/home owners, and communities across the nation with their unique product.
“The synthetic ice allows us to get rid of all of that work and go to a temporary puzzle that clicks together allowing it to be movable,” said Ailport. “The downside to it is it doesn’t act like real ice exactly, however the company says they are getting closer and closer to matching real ice.”
With the cost of real ice maintenance, weather conditions, and the lack of funding for a much more costly climate-controlled building, the synthetic ice rink brings to the community a portable, year round ice skating experience for the whole family to enjoy in any weather.
The ice rink is free to skate on, and Far North Outfitters rents out skates to those who don’t own a pair.
This ice rink provides Boundary County with another popular winter pastime, without the need for residents and visitors to watch the weather, thanks to the High Five of Blue Cross, the Innovia Foundation, the BNSF Foundation, Boundary County Parks and Recreation, all of the people and teams involved.