10th Year Anniversary of Riverside YMCA Rink Closing

In my day (evening?) dreaming of an ice rink once returning to Allegany County, Md., I turned to Google to entertain me.

The search made me realize I missed the milestone, or gravestone, of the Ort Family Ice Arena. April marked 10 years since the ice rink at the Riverside YMCA in Cumberland closed for good.

In my sulking, I found a few odds and ends tied to the history of the rink. (Read my take on a 1986 study on bringing an ice rink to Allegany County if you want to go way back.)

It was well known that it was the first YMCA to have an ice rink on site of one of its clubs, but other YMCA locations, or just Y now, looked to Cumberland for inspiration.

Officials from a Rockport, Maine, YMCA visited Cumberland’s rink in 1999, according to the Bangor Daily News.  The Riverside YMCA in Cumberland opened in 1997. The ice was removed after April 2006. It’s been 10 years in Cumberland without an ice rink.

A month after that article was published, officials dropped plans to add a rink because they learned a businessman in the community was going to build one.

Probably a wise move.

The other tidbit is the whereabouts of the original Ort Family Ice Arena manager.

Gary Baldwin, who also served as an interim CEO of Riverside YMCA, is the general manager of the Lou & Gib Reese Ice Arena in Newark, Ohio. That’s just a 40-minute drive east of Columbus. It’s also about four hours from Cumberland.

Baldwin turned up on a page mentioning his Cumberland experience on the website of the National Collegiate Hockey Association, a new league for club hockey programs.

The league posted a mini-biography/thank you to Baldwin as the rink hosts the NCHA championships. The biography noted how the rink almost shuttered 10 years ago but local businesses and volunteers raised $1.5 million to keep it open.

Compare that to the fundraising campaign that still brought in money to the YMCA but they decided that the money wasn’t going to be used to save the rink.

What if?

It’s such a sad situation the rink isn’t here anymore. I really wish I had the money to build one myself here. But my luck ran out playing slots at Rocky Gap Casino, and the lottery balls aren’t bouncing my way.

Now, I pointed out on here before that it’s possible any rink could have been doomed here when the higher paying factory and manufacturing jobs left Allegany County and the area in the past 10 years.

On the flip side, when the rink closed it was when the first season of NHL hockey was wrapping up following the 2004-2005 lockout. The 2005-2006 season was the first season in the league for Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Both the Capitals and Penguins finished last in their divisions.

Ten years later, their success and notoriety caused an explosion and resurgence in youth and particularly adult hockey in both regions. Would the rink have seen the same resurgence if it continued to operate during the rise of Ovi and Sid?

I’d like to think so but there are so many other factors. We’ve seen new rinks, renovated rinks and added sheets in both the Baltimore and D.C. areas in that time. Pittsburgh has seen new rinks but there has been a market adjustment the past couple years there, especially with a state-of-the-art Penguins practice rink in Cranberry Township. Others have closed in that metro area as there is a movement to build a new one in an armory.

But in this region—Cumberland-Johnstown-Uniontown—it’s a struggle.

As you know, Planet Ice in Johnstown is closing in July, leaving the first Kraft Hockeyville USA down a rink. That community still has two other rinks. The Ice Mine is for sale outside of Connellsville, Pa. Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md., is vehemently opposed to using its outdoor ice rink for shinny or anything resembling hockey.

Somehow, there are more people in this county in 2016 compared to 2006 but fewer people are living in the largest city, Cumberland. That’s going against trends where people are preferring to moving back to the city.

Bedford and Somerset counties in Pennsylvania—both just north of Allegany County—have lost population from 2010 to 2015. And Cambria County, where Johnstown is, just bleeds out population. The county lost 10,000 people from 2001 to 2016. That’s an entire town.

So, it’s certainly a struggle. But let’s focus back here for a minute.

I’m encouraged that Allegany County is opening hotels left and right, which means there are needs for business travelers and vacationers to be here more and more. We’re seeing more chain restaurants invest here–Cracker Barrel, Buffalo Wild Wings, a new Chick-fil-A–in addition to a new shopping center with Aldi, PetSmart and others in LaVale.

If only we can land some larger companies that pay well for people who want to live here, then the dream of bringing back an ice rink can return.