SOUTH PORTLAND — Mill Creek Park will be home to southern Maine’s newest winter carnival next year, if local Rotarians have anything to do with it.
Dan Mooers, a volunteer from the Rotary Club of South Portland-Cape Elizabeth, pitched the idea for two days of snowy festivities to city councilors on Monday.
“I really think we could turn this into another signature festival for the Mill Creek area, similar to Art in the Park – a winter event that the city and Mill Creek Park could be proud of in the long term,” Mooers said.
The festival also would function as a fundraiser for a gift the rotary has offered the city: a new shelter for use by ice skaters. The shelter, which skaters use to momentarily get out of the cold, would replace one that City Manager Jim Gailey said is a hassle to roll out and put away at the beginning and end of each winter.
The two proposal are the result of the club’s plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary in February. To mark the occasion, members sought a project for the group to support, and a proposal to fund that project.
Though still in the planning stages, Mooers said members of the club had come up with lots of ideas for the winter festival. The vision, outlined in a memo to councilors, includes a snowman-making contest, ice skating exhibitions, music, a human “sled-dog” race, horse-and-buggy rides, and historical displays about Mill Creek Park and the Rotary Club.
He also said his group has spoken with and has the support of the Knightville-Mill Creek Neighborhood Association, the Waterfront Market Association, the South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Community Chamber of Commerce and Chief of Police Ed Googins.
The 10-acre park, with its rose garden, pond and walkways, has played host to the Rotary Club’s annual Christmas Tree Sale for decades. Mooers said this connection makes it the natural choice for a related project.
Gailey and Mayor Rosemarie De Angelis, in an earlier meeting, told Mooers the best project would be to replace the skating shelter the city tows out ever winter with a new, more mobile structure.
“You’ve all seen the skating shelter we have down there in the winter,” Gailey told councilors. “It’s pretty ratty. It’s seen years of abuse. So now it’s time to look for another kind of shelter, providing a sitting area for those putting on skates or the moms and dads who just want to get out of the cold wind.”
Rotary Club member and architect Kirk Henriksen worked with Southern Maine Community College students, who competed to design the skating shack, and presented an initial sketch.
The new shack would be 14 feet by 8 1/2 feet, with benches circling the inside. It would have stairs and a ramp, and would be permanently attached to a trailer with a removable hitch for easier transportation.
In a memo, Mooers said he approached the council hoping for formal approval of the Rotary’s plans “so that serious work on the winter festival event can move ahead as soon as possible” and “so that cost pricing and then construction (of the skating shack) can proceed over the summer.”
He told councilors he was hesitant to do more planning or approach potential sponsors, vendors and other participants unless he could tell them the city approved the plans.
Councilors expressed some concerns, such as how the club would avoid vehicle damage to the park’s turf if the ground is not frozen during the festival, but they all said they supported both proposals.
De Angelis said she and the city manager would try to get the items on a council agenda for formal approval as soon as possible.
Gailey, who also supports both of the proposals, said the city needs to see a price tag for the skating shack and a more detailed plan for the winter festival.
“This thing is still in the preliminary stages in terms of working with staff,” he said. “There’s a little more fine tuning that needs to be done before we get into the details.”