With easily one of the most beautiful and accessible skating and sledding facilities available in the Great Lakes Bay Region, The Friends of Hoyt Park, Positive Results in Downtown Saginaw, and the Saginaw County Parks & Recreation department are teaming up to pull together and incredible array of Winter activities and keeping their fingers crossed for cold temperatures and at least 4-inches of snowfall as the 11h Season of Bringing Back the Ice at Hoyt Park commences on Saturday, January 14th and concludes with the 9th Annual Outhouse Race on February 11th.
Regardless of whether the weather cooperates or not, plans are moving forward to once again feature Free Open Skating, Hockey & Sledding, affordable $2.00 skate rentals and free hot chocolate & cookies served at Hoyt Park’s renovated warming house, five weeks of fun and family oriented events beginning with the popular Night Skate on Jan. 14th from 4-7 PM, which is sponsored by Jolt Credit Union. .
During the 1920’s when Hoyt Park was at its peak during the winter months, as many as 7,000 patrons would converge upon this expansive skating & sledding resource in one day, while averaging 100,000 skaters every winter; and throughout the decades it has remained the crown jewel of Saginaw’s parks & recreational programs.
With the downturn in population and diminished financial resources, in 2003 the City of Saginaw could no longer afford to maintain the facility, so consequently city baseball, softball, flag football and other recreational leagues, which had provided an outlet for residents through many generations, were suddenly no longer available. But in 2008 a concerned group of Saginaw citizens came together to create a group that would help resurrect and maintain the historic park, forming a grassroots citizen group called The Friends of Hoyt Park. Spearheaded by Larry Brethauer and Chris Packard, the Friends of Hoyt Park Board went to the city and signed a lease to bring the park back to life.
Since that fateful date 15-years ago, the success and popularity of their endeavors has proven to be a phenomenal grass-roots success, bringing baseball back to the historic facility. Spearheading a $400,000 renovation to make the historic warming house operational, and staging a litany of popular winter events during this Bringing Back the Ice series.
Since its inception 11 years ago Bringing Back the Ice has indeed proven that ‘if you build it they will come’. According to Brethauer, “Depending upon the weather we average between 300 to 1000 people for any given event. With the Outhouse Races we can push up to 2000 attendees between the 3 to 4 hours we’re open.”
Given the unseasonably warm and rainy weather we’ve been experiencing thus far in the Winter of 2023, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, Brethauer says the opening event will simply be pushed to a later date. “The worst year we had to cancel two events and move them to later dates, but if that happens more people just come to the next one,” he reflects. “Usually our two biggest nights are the first event because people can skate and sled under the lights; and the Outhouse Race is definitely our biggest event.”
“On the opposite side of the spectrum if it gets too cold people don’t like to freeze,” he continues, “so ideally we like to have about a 4-day period of temperatures in the high teens to low 20s and not get over the low 30s during the day, because we need 4 inches to be able to onto the ice.”
Brethauer notes that it’s hard to gauge attendance because of the size of Hoyt Park, which is also one of its strengths because of the fact people have room to move. “It might not look crowded on any given night, but this is a 20-acre park and we use 10-acres of it in the winter. If you start counting people on the ice you suddenly realize there might be 200 people because it’s the size of three hockey rinks and so spread out.”
“One way we keep track is through skate rentals, which average around 100; but more and more people are bringing their own skates. We do get more sledding than skating. One weekend from the north side of the park to the other side of the warming house there were sledders lined up all around the park, so there must have been thousands - way too many to count.”
As for the rest of the events, Positive Results director Jeanne Conger, “We’re sticking with the same Theme Nights we have in prior years, because why change something that’s working. It’s a good program and one thing that’s improving is that we’re adding a lot more mascots for our Mascot Night.”
Here’s a breakdown on the rest of the schedule:
• Skate With the Mascots • January 21 • Noon - 4 PM • Sponsored by Jolt Credit Union & KISS 107.1)
• Broom Ball • Noon - 2 PM • Sponsored by Saginaw County Parks
• Promote Your Favorite Team • January 28 • Noon - 4 PM • Wear Your Team Colors!
• Skate with the SVSU Hockey Team • Noon - 4 PM • Sponsored by Jolt Credit Union & 102.5 WIOG
• Skate & Sledding • 9th Annual Outhouse Race • Noon - 4 PM Sponsored by Positive Results in Downtown
The annual Outhouse Race has evolved into one of the most entertaining exhibitions of human ingenuity featured in the region, drawing people from Houghton Lake and all parts of the state - watching people design a unique outhouse, put it on skis, and witness a team attempt to pilot it to the finish line must simply be seen to be believed.
According to Saginaw County Parks director Brian Lechel, “Last year we had nine entries and have had as many as eighteen. We have a lot of local businesses that participate and have a warming tent with beer & wine, pop, and a few snacks that people can enjoy while watching. It’s definitely a spectator event that is always quite a spectacle.”
When asked about some of the more unusual entries over the years, Jeanne recalls a Tropical Hawaiian entry that people were racing barefoot on a bitter cold day in their shorts. “I don’t know how they did it,” she notes. Adds Brian: “I remember a Trojan Horse one year that fell apart, and Saginaw Spirit built a beautiful hockey puck that’s really hard to move because it’s built out of solid wood. There have been some really interesting ones. The Saginaw Fire Department came in with their full gear on and had a battery loaded and would run the siren when pushing it - talk about being heavy to push! And the Saginaw Area Fireworks built there outhouse in the shape of a rocket.”
“People that would like to enter an Outhouse in the race are encouraged to contact us if they have questions and there is no entry fee anymore, so they can how up the day of the event if they wish. We also offer cash prices of $300 for 1st Place, $140 for 2nd Place, and $50 for 3rd Place. Plus, the Saginaw Spirit donate their ‘Eagles Nest Package’ which is awarded for the Best in Show, and PRIDE also gives a case of toilet paper away.”
“Saginaw County Parks loves to support Hoyt Park annually, especially this Bringing Back the Ice celebration in the winter months,” concludes Lechel. “We’re already involved in the Summer Baseball League and this allows us to continue supporting recreation in the city of Saginaw through the winter months with skating events and he sledding hill, which is open much longer than these skating events, so I would like to encourage people to come out and enjoy everything that we offer.”
“ I would like to thank Jolt Credit Union for sponsoring the ice and also sponsoring one of the nights,” adds Jeanne, “but most Saginaw County Parks as the main sponsor of the event along with our participating radio stations. And for the Outhouse Races I’d like to recognize Remer Plumbing & Heating who sponsor the Warming Tent and collecting track sponsors. For $250 you can display your banner at the Outhouse Race as they line the entire race track, and we get a lot of spectators for that. Since Day one Remer has always entered the race as well and last year was the first year they weren’t in the finals.”
If you need plans on how to build an outhouse, feel free to call Positive Results Downtown (PRIDE at 989-753-9168 or email them at email@example.com for a set of plans.
For more information and to become involved with the Friends of Hoyt Park or Positive Results Downtown you can contact Larry Brethauer at 989.284.0945 or Jeanne Conger at 989.753.9168.
9th February, 2024