Getting out and about: Bannack, local rink offer winter rec ops

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
On ice

Kids hit the Dillon rink for some skating. M.P. Regan photo

The pandemic crossed off another recreational and socializing option from the list for area folks with the recent decision by Bannack State Park to not open its ice skating pond this winter.

“The main reason was social distancing concerns in the warming house,” said Bannack State Park Manager Dale Carlson of the small indoor facility designed to let people change into and out of their skates, and enjoy a little time out of the cold.

But even with the skating pond closed until at least next winter, the park located about a 25-mile drive southwest of Dillon still offers a Santa’s bag worth of cold-weather, outdoor activities and history.

And Dillon just re-gained its own top ice skating option.

“We opened Friday,” said Dillon Amateur Hockey Association President Mike Morrow of the ice rink known fondly as The Corrall that the group debuted last winter at Chris Kraft Park in Dillon.

“The ice is in pretty good shape,” said Morrow, adding that DAHA recently installed a new rink liner to replace the partially torn one that haunted its efforts to sustain an even skating surface during its rookie season last winter.

Being haunted in a fun and educational way while recreating outdoors could serve as one of the big attractions for people visiting Bannack State Park this winter.

“Part of the appeal here is you get to visit an old, abandoned ghost town, so it’s unique in that way.” said Carlson of the town first established in 1862 that now stands as a National Historic Landmark and one of the country’s top ghost towns.

“You get lots and lots of history you won’t get anywhere else,” added Carlson of Bannack, which served as the Montana Territory’s capital and remains remarkably well preserved, despite the passage of more than a century and a half since its gold-rush era heyday—and the occasional flash flood since.

In the spirit of Bannack’s spirited history and menu of outdoor recreation opportunities, the park will offer a special tour on New Year’s Day.

“It’s actually in conjunction with a statewide effort by parks around state to provide a firstday hike or tour to help people get out to get some exercise on the first day of year,” said Carlson of Bannack’s First-Day Tour set for 1 p.m. on Jan. 1.

“It will start at the park’s Visitor Center, go through the Town Site, and all the way over to the mill,” said Carlson of the First Day Tour to be led by John Phillips, a ranger and interpreter at the park.

“That’s about a mile hike, all flat,” added Carlson, who said Phillips will offer his highly informed take on Bannack’s highly entertaining history during the tour.

“John will be providing information about Bannack and some of the stories about Bannack’s past,” said Carlson of a catalogue of tales about Bannack’s wild, 19th-century boom-town days

“I’m sure John will talk about Henry Plummer, about Bannack’s early years,” said Carlson of Bannack’s infamous sheriff, who was hung, along with some of his deputies, by vigilantes in 1864.

“And people are going to hear some new stuff they probably haven’t heard before,” said Carlson of a Bannack tour that will also offer the chance to get inside some of the historic structures the park usually keeps locked and a special visit to one of the town’s most significant sites, Hendricks Mill.

“Most people have not gotten a tour of the mill, because it requires a special guided tour that we charge for in the summer. But this one will be free,” said Carlson of the Jan. 1 tour that will include an up-close look inside the mill that operated for over a century before closing in the early 1970s.

“If you miss the First Day Tour, you can still get one of those or even a mill tour. Or you can do a tour on your own. We offer two-dollar self-guided tour book you can pick up at Visitor Center,” said Carlson, who said Bannack will also continue to offer many opportunities for people looking to get some outdoor, cold-weather exercise.

“There are still hiking trails available right now. You can get a picturesque view of the ghost town from up on Bird’s Eye View trail,” noted Carlson, who said the park provides a lot of other winter hiking options—along with snowshoeing and cross country skiing options, even camping opportunities for the hearty and well-prepared.

“We sit in a valley at about 5800 feet, so it tends to be about ten degrees colder here than it is in Dillon,” advised Carlson.

DAHA continues to root for a continuation of cold temperatures in Dillon that will help keep the skating surface at the ice rink it fondly christened “The Corral” upon its opening last winter.

New guidelines for using the facility during the pandemic are posted at the rink, which now features benches on several sides of the rink for multiple access points that will allow people to get on and off the ice in several different places to maintain social distancing.

“We trying to use limit use of warming shelter,” said Morrow of the hut designed as a place for people to put their skates on and off.

“So, we have a lot of restrictions posted around the rink, urging people to put on their skates outside.”

The facility offers people the chance to drop by pretty much any time during the day to skate or play ice hockey—and even a few hours into the night under the rink’s lights.

“Half the lights will go out at 9:30 p.m., and then all of them go off by 10 p.m. So, when people see those first set of lights go off, they should start to think about getting ready to go,” advised Morrow.

“It’s a really nice, safe public resource for winter recreation—a chance for people to get outside with plenty of room to space out,” commented Morrow, who said people can keep up to date on the status of the rink’s ice conditions and updates on whether the group decides to host ice skating lessons and regular pickup hockey nights this winter by checking out the Dillon Amateur Hockey Association Facebook page.