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Curlers seek own ice in Kandiyohi County

WILLMAR -- The sport of curling has been around for over 500 years, and thanks to the International Olympic Committee adding it to the Winter Olympics in 1998, interest in the sport played on ice with brooms and a stone called the rock has contin...

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WILLMAR - The sport of curling has been around for over 500 years, and thanks to the International Olympic Committee adding it to the Winter Olympics in 1998, interest in the sport played on ice with brooms and a stone called the rock has continued to grow in popularity.

"The interest in curling skyrocketed," especially following the Olympics, said Scott Guptill, member of the Glacial Ridge Curling Club, formerly known as the Willmar Curling Club.

Glacial Ridge, formed in 2005 by Troy Gorans with assistance from Kevin Madsen, has around 100 members from all over the region.

"It is a very energizing sport. It is growing rapidly," Gorans said.

However, growth in the Willmar club has plateaued, Gorans said, because the club does not have the facilities or ice time to offer additional playing opportunities.

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"That is all we can handle with what we have," Gorans said.

Glacial Ridge shares the ice at the Willmar Civic Center with hockey and figure skating, which is difficult because the ice surfaces are so different.

"They can't share a facility efficiently and successfully. Ice quality becomes vital," Gorans said.

Curling ice is made as flat as possible, with very clean water, and then its trademark rough, or pebbled, surface is added.

Changing an ice sheet from hockey to curling takes time, and when there is only a limited amount of time for curlers to play, that is time they would rather use for competition than ice maintenance.

"It is hard to keep skating ice into good curling ice," Guptill said.

Club leaders have been looking into the possibility of building a dedicated curling facility in the area for several years now. The curling club's wish is to construct a dedicated curling facility that will be around 75 feet wide and approximately 210 feet long.

"We want to build a four-sheet," Guptill said. This would allow for four games to take place at the same time.

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This past year has seen the club approach both Willmar and Spicer, to see if either city would be open to assisting the club in its endeavor.

"We're looking for the best success for regional curling," Gorans said.

Both cities are studying the possibility of assisting the curling club with a facility.

"It appears both are on the same level," Gorans said.

The Willmar City Council has approved staff seeking requests for proposals to complete a study of the Civic Center to see what a potential curling facility would be like on that property.

"We're trying to decide when and what that looks like in the future," Willmar Public Works Director Sean Christensen said.

There is some risk to either Willmar or Spicer should they go forward with helping the club, Gorans said. The city would own the building, because the club wouldn't be able to afford the property taxes if they owned the building. Also the club feels municipal bonds would be the best way to finance such a project, with the curlers paying the city back.

"That is why we need to get local government involved," Gorans said.

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Two capital feasibility studies done by the club have shown the interest in raising funds for such a project is there in the regional community.

"There is support from the business community," Guptill said.

The curling club estimates it needs to raise about $1.7 million. The club would also maintain and operate the building. There are nearly two dozen curling facilities in Minnesota and, according to Gorans, they can all keep their doors open.

"And they all cash-flow. Why should we be any different?" Gorans asked.

Both Gorans and Guptill said the curling club does not have a favorite location for the facility. In their minds, no matter where it goes it will benefit the community. Curlers will travel 40 to 50 miles looking for open curling ice, Gorans said.

"We think it's good for the community as a whole and that community is large," Guptill said.

The curling club hopes to make a decision on a location soon. That way the capital campaign can ramp up. Also, the 2018 Winter Olympics are just under a year away, and Gorans and Guptill believe there will be additional interest in curling at that time.

"We want the answers by the end of this month," Guptill said.

If and when the new facility is built, club leadership sees a successful future.

"We will double our membership without any problem. We'll have more to offer the community," Gorans said.

Curling offers people an exciting, cerebral and fun activity to enjoy during Minnesota's winter months.

"People are curious about it, and they find out it is way more intricate and complicated," Guptill said.

For those just interested in casual play, there are few start-up costs involved. The curling clubs provides the brooms and rocks, usually the most expensive piece of equipment needed for curling.

"Just bring out some clean tennis shoes and come out and play. You don't need to be good at it, just have fun," Guptill said.

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Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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