Three Forks Mayor Sean Gifford is leading the effort to build a skating rink in Stevenson Park, where ground was leveled this week for the planned 50 x 100-foot structure that will be located next to an existing warming hut.
This won’t be the first year that Three Forks residents have had the opportunity to skate in town, but historically it has been difficult to maintain ice in Stevenson Park, Gifford says. To prevent water from seeping into the ground, the new rink will be lined. And after this year, Gifford hopes the city will have acquired a refrigeration unit to maintain good ice all winter long, even during warm-weather thaws.
“We’re hoping Mother Nature cooperates and lets us make some natural ice this year,” Gifford said. “Our goal for next year is to be like Philipsburg,” which has a refrigeration system to keep ice cool all season long.
Gifford’s motivation is threefold: To provide easier access to winter recreation for citizens, especially kids; to make it possible to maintain good ice closer to town than at the ponds, where people have been skating in recent years; and to enable the creation of a winter economy in Three Forks by hosting hockey tournaments as Philipsburg and Virginia City do.
The mayor is a hockey player, who along with some other town residents has helped maintain ice on the ponds in past years. He says the in-town rink will be more accessible for young people, and also give kids who want to play hockey a place to practice closer than Bozeman.
Since Gifford announced his intentions to embark on the project a few weeks ago, “the outpouring of support from the community has been phenomenal,” he says.
Citizens and businesses alike have contributed financially to the project, which will cover the $6,600 cost of the materials for the initial rink construction. Gifford plans to apply for a tourism grant to help finance the refrigeration system.
Gifford believes the facility will provide a much-needed winter recreational outlet for Three Forks this winter.
“Especially this year, skiing is going to be a lot less accessible for people (due to the pandemic),” he says. “This will give kids things to do during the winter instead of being locked in their homes.”