Hockey began in Gunnison in 1981 with the construction of a lined pond with dirt banks and a small heated shed to serve as a warming house. From the beginning, Gunnison hockey has depended on cold winter temperatures for ice. In 1983, a tractor mounted ice surfacer was purchased. The following year a new warming house was constructed to serve the growing facility. In 1986, a set of dasher boards was built using pressure treated lumber and a redwood cap rail. These boards sat on top of the ice and were braced and anchored with 2x4’s and stakes driven into the ground. In 1987, our first youth hockey program was offered at the cost of $12.00 per participant.
Hockey programs continued to grow for the next seven years and in 1994, Elmira College donated a set of boards and glass to our rink facility and were installed for the 1995 season. At this time, Gunnison volunteers constructed a second shallow rink with a liner to allow two hockey rinks to be utilized by moving the home made boards to the new surface. The following year, Gunnison youth joined the Rocky Mountain Youth Hockey League. In 1997, user demand was great enough that a concrete slab was poured for the primary rink and a concrete dasher board curb was installed allowing roller hockey to be played during the summer. Funding for this project was obtained in the form of a $50,000.00 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, $50,000.00 from the City of Gunnison, and $25,000.00 from in-kind services to prepare the site for the concrete from the City.
In 1998, youth hockey had grown to include teams at every level: Mini-mites through midgets, and girls’ hockey U12 through U19. In 2001, the need for more consistent ice in order to allow youth teams to become more competitive resulted in a large fundraising effort. A non-profit group, Shade for Blades, was created and $311,000.00 was raised to shade the rink in order to extend the hockey season. All of the funding for the project was privately donated with 100% of pledged money collected. Community support for the roof was overwhelming. The entire project from fundraising to completion of construction was accomplished in one year. Gunnison hockey players now had a facility that extended the season five weeks per year.
In 2002, a log home was donated to the rink. Community members renovated the structure to add four locker rooms and a referee’s room to the facility. The project was completed for approximately $15,000.00. In 2005, the Gunnison Valley Ice Association, in cooperation with Parks and Recreation, obtained grants and raised funds equaling $87,000.00 to purchase new boards and glass for the primary, covered rink. At this time, the donated boards were relocated on site for a second rink, allowing for expanded hockey programming on two safe rinks. The community donated 100% of the funds for the concrete curb, as well as the labor to make the move. Gunnison Blades Midget and Bantam teams were competing at the top of their league despite often playing their first games without practice due to the lack of sufficient cold weather for our rink to freeze. Hockey had taken off. In 2007, there were 192 youth hockey participants as well as 196 adult hockey participants in a town of 5,500 people.
In April of 2007, a group called Citizens for an Active Gunnison was formed with the goal of proposing a ballot initiative for the improvement of recreational facilities in our city. The group was successful in passing a 1% sales tax increase, which provided $2.5 million for the construction of an enclosed, refrigerated hockey facility. The vote passed with 67% approval. Given the broad support for such a facility, a grant of $500,000.00 was awarded by the Department of Local Affairs, a Colorado State agency, to help complete the project. The Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District has added an additional $25,000.00 to the project as well. Through citizen approved funding, grant funding, and interest accrued on the funds, the total budget for the project is approximately $3.1 million. A ground breaking ceremony was held on April 17, 2008 and completed the project on November 8, 2008.