Offering outdoor winter sports in Rexburg makes sense. The long, cold winters and an abundance of snow are ideal conditions that allow the small Eastern Idaho city to offer Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and sledding to residents and other Idahoans.
Now those activities are making dollars for the city, which will allow these healthy activities to be sustained and expand in the coming years.
This was the vision community leaders had back in 2018 when they allocated funds from a $250,000 Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health Community Transformation Grant to invest in a winter sports park at the city owned golf course. The purpose of the Community Transformation Grant was to encourage and promote physical activity, access to healthy foods, and create sustainable change in the city that could last for generations.
The winter sports park at Teton Lakes Golf Course is on the right track.
For about 10 years, a few Nordic skiers was grooming Nordic ski trails on the golf course using their own equipment. A small group of users who took advantage of the volunteers’ efforts and enjoyed exercising in the outdoors.
This gave community leaders the idea to use Community Transformation Grant funding to try and make the dormant golf course a destination in the winter for more than just a select few.
“We wanted to preserve the amenity,” said Daniel Torres, the city’s economic developer said. “The volunteers did it because they loved to ski themselves. We purchased equipment and a fleet of skis to rent, and that has really increased the popularity. The equipment really was a barrier to entry for many people.”
Park usage has exploded, especially in the past year. Torres pointed out that the city received twice the amount of revenue from ski rentals in one month this season than in all of the 2019-20 season. The city agreed to extend the hours of a part-time employee to work the clubhouse. Earlier this month, City Council voted to add a fulltime parks and recreation employee who will take over the trail grooming and other duties within the department.
“You can’t help but notice how many more people are using it now,” Rexburg City Council member Bryanna Johnson said. “This really means a lot to our city. I’m always taking little videos to show other council members how much it’s being used. I think everyone on the council agrees that this is good for our community.”
The city originally purchased 45 pair of adult skis and 30 pair for children. They rent for $6 adults and $4 children, making it a low-cost activity. There is no trail usage fee, so people with their own equipment can ski or snowshoe for free. The equipment rentals have been popular and purchasing additional skis is a possibility.
“On Friday and Saturday, there’s rarely inventory in the clubhouse because they’re all being rented,” Torres said. “You have people coming in from skiing with their equipment and literally handing it to a person waiting for it.”
Johnson, who snowshoes at the golf course four times a week, said seeing the winter park become sustainable has been nice.
“It’s not a huge cost and it makes money,” she said. “It’s extremely hard to make money off recreation programs, and we are making money off the rentals.”
The success of the winter park has the city adding amenities and things to do. The city purchased a sled that adults use to pull/push small children while skiing. It’s been so popular that Rexburg Mayor Jerry Merrill used the money that he earned in the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health’s Mayor’s Walking Challenge to purchase a second sled.
A sledding hill already has been added, and a fat tire bicycle trail across the street on also has been rolled out. Johnson said she talked to a rider who came down from Idaho Falls, which is about 30 miles away, to ride. There’s talk of an ice-skating rink, perhaps one with a synthetic surface that could be used later into the season when regular ice would melt.
“We are drawing people from surrounding areas, and that’s going to help Rexburg in so many ways,” Johnson said. “I think this park is one of the greatest assets for Rexburg. It’s cold for so long here, and there’s not a lot else to do.”
Torres said the city can use that to its advantage.
“This can help us build a culture of outdoor-ness,” he said. “If families start skiing, maybe they make it an annual event. We have a lot of runners in our community, and this gives them a way to stay active in the winter that isn’t just being on a treadmill. This turns a negative into a positive – you no longer need to shut down because it’s winter.”