GLADSTONE - Despite a cold winter that prompted many to stay indoors, the Gladstone ski hill has enjoyed a longer than average season and has been recognized for its popular and innovative after school program.
"This weekend as of right now would be our last weekend open," said Jason Davis, assistant director of the Gladstone parks and recreation department.
Typically the ski hill closes around March 1, but a cold winter and new snowmaking equipment has kept conditions favorable for skiers, snowboarders, and tubers. The new snowmaking system and a reservoir created prior to this year's ski season have allowed the park to produce snow continually as long as temperatures are below 25 degrees.
"Our biggest thing this year is it's so cold. We've had people cancel parties on us," said Davis.
Temperatures that hovered around -20 degrees and wind chills that reached -40 or colder prompted many residents to forgo their winter recreation plans at the ski hill, but compared to the past few years attendance numbers have been up at the park.
New equipment and an extended season aren't the only things the recreation department has to celebrate. The park's after school program was recently awarded the Michigan Municipal League's Region 7 Community Excellence Award (CEA) at the League's 2014 Capital Conference on March 18. (See related story).
"It was the fourth year in our after school program and it's been one of the most productive years so far," said Davis of the program.
Students from Gladstone Area Schools, the Rapid River School District, and Holy Name Catholic School can ride a bus to the ski hill three days a week for the program. When they arrive students have access to homework assistance; are fed a healthy snack; and at 4 p.m. have access to the hill for skiing, snowboarding, and tubing. Students can also use city skiing and snowboarding equipment and receive skiing and snowboarding instruction.
"The kids can come out and learn (skiing or snowboarding) before they spend hundred of dollars to learn the equipment," said Davis.
For students who are unable or unready to ski, the program occasionally provides other educational and recreational opportunities. This season representatives from the Clear Lake Education Center came to the ski hill and took students on a snowshoeing nature walk. The students trekked on one of the sports park's cross country ski trail and learned about wildlife and natural habitats.
The cost of participating in the program is $9 a day, but seasons passes can also be used to cover the program fee. Once students arrive at the park around 3:30 p.m. they are permitted to stay until the park closes at 8:30 p.m.
"This is a project that's been very helpful in our community," said Gladstone Mayor Pro Tem Hugo D. Mattonen, who accepted the regional award on the city's behalf. "We have many partners that are excited about it. The children that attend our program are very excited about it. It's one of those win-win programs for the community."
Region 7 includes all communities in the Upper Peninsula. The other communities that competed for the 2014 Region 7 CEA nomination were Ironwood and St. Ignace. The Gladstone project will now go on to compete against six other regional winners for the statewide CEA title at the League's Annual Convention Oct. 14-17 in Marquette.