Wessington Springs Builds Community through Winter Park and Holiday Magic
By: Andrea Schmidt
Winter in Wessington Springs is pretty magical. There are sleigh rides (or hayrack rides during this COVID year), a sledding hill that features a historic Rube Goldberg ski lift, ice skating, lights and decorations, and even visits from the Grinch and Santa during their annual Holiday Magic in the Park.
But as anyone in a small town knows, all this magic has a lot of hard work behind it.
“It started with the skating pond and winter sports in Winter Park,” says Loree Gaikowski, Director of Wessington Springs Area Chamber and Development. “I was talking with Gwyneth Dean-Fastnacht, a resident here who likes to get things done. We want to make Wessington Springs a winter destination. We worked together to get things going.”
They applied for a Community Innovation Grant from the South Dakota Community Foundation shortly after Loree started her job as Director of the Chamber and Development. They got it, and then and got the community involved.
“At first I was disappointed because only 30 people showed up for our community meeting,” Loree says. “But Paula Jensen from Dakota Resources was there, and she said not to get discouraged because those were the 30 people that we really wanted! She was right.”
Loree recognized the value of Dakota Resources early on. She didn’t have much funding, so she organized a Ribfest to raise money to join Dakota Resources, “so we could have them as a tool to help the community thrive.”
Loree adds, “Communities under 1,000 don’t have as many people to make things happen. I appreciate the help we get from Dakota Resources. You go through tough times, and that support is so important.”
Loree is also buoyed up by the support from people outside of Wessington Springs. She ran an ad in the paper asking for donations, and they received more than 90% of their donations for Winter Park from people who live out of town.
“It renews my faith that this can be more than just a local thing,” she says. “We can make Winter Park something really special for people of all ages and from all over to experience.”
Plans for now – and into the future
“We want to get new ice skates for people to use at the skating pond,” she says. “We also want to provide snowshoes and make the sledding hills handicap accessible. We want everyone to be able to enjoy it, no strings attached.”
Because there are so many natural springs in the park, it’s difficult to keep the skating pond frozen. They had to put some of their grant money toward engineering fees to get ideas to address that issue. They also hope to get additional grant money to memorialize their historic ski lift and build a new one.
“We want the park to help spread positivity,” explains Loree. “It’s so much more than just the Winter Park. It’s the heart of the community.”
It’s easy to understand why Wessington Springs Area Chamber & Development is sharing the Dakota Resources Community Innovation Prize for 2020.
See photos and videos of the Winter Park and the Holiday Magic in the Park event on the Wessington Springs Area Chamber & Development Facebook page.