Save Youth Hockey at the Lower Chester Rinks

Every now and then, my work life and my hockey life collide. This is one of those times, as I learned this afternoon that there is at least some threat that the Congdon youth hockey program will lose the use of the Lower Chester rinks. This is a call to arms to defend Congdon youth hockey at Lower Chester.

The well-written petition makes a solid case, so I won’t re-hash the whole history or re-open my gripes about how the Red Plan blew up a neighborhood institution and one of the best-used public outdoor rinks in the city. (Oops, I just did.) But, out of that wreckage, some good came: the Lower Chester rinks, which had stopped fielding youth teams some time ago, found new life as the home for Congdon hockey. Lower Chester is perhaps the most storied youth rink in a town littered with hockey history. The Williams family, pioneers of American hockey, have their roots here; Mike Randolph and many in his great generation came from Lower Chester, too. Congdon hockey has seen its numbers grow, not shrink, since it moved to Lower Chester, so this isn’t an issue of declining numbers or lack of demand.

I won’t pretend to know much about the Neighbors of Lower Chester Park, the volunteer group that oversees the park that hosts the rinks. However, some of its members seem to think the rinks inhibit the park’s year-round usefulness. (In summer, it currently hosts a skate park that seems to do decent business, though  there seem to be grander plans of a playground or something in what little I can glean from the group’s meeting minutes.) Joel Sipress, the city councilor who represents the area, also alludes to some past tension between the hockey and the Neighbors in his response to the petition. If so, that’s unfortunate, and there are some bridges to mend. But it would be far more unfortunate if the Neighbors took out some spat with hockey association members on the dozens of kids who need a place to play.

Removing the rinks from Lower Chester would toss aside piece of history, and damage the truly unique outdoor neighborhood youth hockey model draws praise from non-Duluthian hockey people in all corners of the state. It would force out an association that has already gotten a raw deal from decision-makers, and force it to choose among such unsavory options as sharing an already busy rink like Glen Avon or Portman, raising the capital and finding the land to build new rinks somewhere, or disbanding altogether. As the city learned on a greater scale with the Red Plan, schemes that disrupt neighborhood hubs and ship kids off to wherever seems convenient wind up being disruptive, and are at odds  with any plan to build cohesive communities with kids at the center of their vision for the future. Tossing out a successful youth organization would make people like me who are looking to settle in this general area question whether the neighborhood actually wants young people who expect to have kids here. And while the Congdon youth program certainly draws from Duluth’s wealthiest pockets, its boundaries extend all the way into downtown; Lower Chester is basically the only rink remaining anywhere near the center of the city. If city leaders value any sense of equity in access to a key piece of Duluth’s cultural legacy, this rink is important.

There has to be a way to find common ground here. And if you need someone to bridge the planning and hockey worlds, I’m happy to help…


3 thoughts on “Save Youth Hockey at the Lower Chester Rinks

  1. Hi Karl – Let’s chat. I really do not know who you are or what you actually do. It seems there are misconceptions about NOLCP. It really saddens me to hear many of the rumors/ personal opinions that are out there. It would be great if someone – perhaps you? – could sit down and have an adult conversation about Lower Chester – where it has been, the actual neighborhood and what NOLCP’s vision is for L.C. I am one of the founding members of NOLCP.

  2. Let us be clear-I was on the original NOLCP group and am still on, I wrote ALL the NOLCP proposals that funded the renovations and I was then accused by the remaining four members of NOLCP of doing everything I did for all our children, young to our college students, as a bribe by Congdon Hockey to offset my hockey fees? My goodness, to be threatened, actually threatened by you after the thousands and thousands of dollars in proposals I wrote for you? I am still shaken by the vitriol, which only occurred after I and many of my UMD students volunteered to paint the Shack (inside and out) as these students are the best of our community and many that volunteered played hockey as well as other organized sports. They are NOLCP, I am NOLCP. I live in this neighborhood and I speak for many.

    Congdon Park Hockey at Lower Chester has kiddoes from three schools playing for them: Myers-Wilkins, Lowell and Congdon and it is our collective future to cross boundaries and come together in such commonalities such as uniting around all of our children. Currently, this old and well-established hockey club (Congdon) is enriched in teachers/academics that are addressing diversity and inclusion metrics (a focus of ours in Duluth) to make this hockey rink represent the best that Duluth has to offer. We are the 21-Century in inclusion in organized sports for kids where the low cost of volunteer driven, organized children’s sports is equity for all. When this is coupled with the metrics on scholastic achievement proffered by supervised free play in the safe space that is Lower Chester, a result of the multiple levels of free play ice spaces: rec skating, novice hockey, novice practice and large rink organized efforts-this is a win by educational research standards.

    As before, which you at NOLCP know, I have designed a win for all but will not deploy that design with NOLCP current mindset (you kids-get off my lawn), which is limited to now a tiny handful of active members as the rest of us have been bullied off. However, the current mindset of NOLCP in which Duluth taxpayer dollars, which again unites us as equals (we all pay), is instead is an entitlement to NOLCP where only the immediate neighbors of Lower Chester are envisioned to be allowed access to this site. Lower Chester is not an entitlement to the neighborhood, it is a gem and a privilege to share that shows our entire city how amazing our neighborhood is by everyone coming to this lovely, peaceful Charlie Brown-like skating experience (play Charlie Brown music in your head and be soothed).

    I am proud of what we have done in just 7 short years to take Lower Chester from a weed strewn, abandoned field to now be a warm, opening family community in winter. It is simply, amazing. My college kids at UMD love it, my kids in my neighborhood love it, I am so proud of it. But make no mistake-this magic occurs only by virtue of the some ~500-600 hours of volunteer effort in winter by Congdon Park Hockey in addition to the few hundred hours of additional volunteer time year around to clean and maintain the property that they donate. How lucky we are as a city to have such involved citizens for the betterment of all of our children-youth to college age. Keep in mind, organized hockey only directly impacts children 4-11, yet leads to the betterment of all ages through organized and free play in our most challenging but rewarding season that makes us unique-our winter.

    I have a work around for everyone-a win and a win. Stop being exclusive and embrace everyone NOLCP, we are better than this, at least most of our neighborhood is.
    A member of NOLCP.
    Dr. Anne Hinderliter

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