Facing a replacement order deadline from the state, the Eagle River Recreation Association (ERRA) kicked off a $1.5 million capital campaign this week to save the historic Eagle River Sports Arena — known fondly to most in hockey and skating as the “Dome.”

Future replacement of the 50-year-old artificial ice plant has been on the radar screen for a couple of years now, but leaks in the in-concrete piping system have expedited the need for a major fund-raising effort.

Timing is important because the project needs to be done by next summer and fall, prior to the hockey and skating seasons, or there won’t be any ice in the famed Sports Arena next winter.

The ERRA and this project are vital to Eagle River and area communities because the organization provides family-based sports programming that has been an important part of life here for more than half a century.

Times have never been more challenging than today for the ERRA. General class sizes and participation numbers are down from years past. The organization spent tens of thousands of dollars last year to permanently shore up the unique but aging roof structure over the dome. And while that is now solid and safe, there are ongoing inspection and maintenance issues that relate to winter snow load and shifting.

The ERRA is not only Eagle River hockey tradition at its best, but a fantastic recreational program that hones the skills of hockey players and figure skaters. Supported by 175 families, the association and its facilities don’t rely on taxes of any kind. 

At a time when youths and families face more challenges than ever before, the ERRA?shines as a productive outlet that provides entertainment, training and fitness. The athletic programs teach far more than the fundamentals of hockey and skating, exposing youths to lessons they’ll use for a lifetime — teamwork, sportsmanship, the benefits of hard work, competition, perseverance, respecting authority, the importance of details and why they should always strive to do their personal best.

From an economic standpoint, businesses in the city and surrounding towns get a huge boost from up to 10 youth tournaments each winter and a 3-on-3 tourney in April. There are motels and resorts here that would be hard-pressed to survive without the ERRA. Summer figure skating and hockey schools bring even more people here.

Hockey is another of those things that has put Eagle River on the map. Home to the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame, Eagle River is now recognized by the state of Wisconsin as the State Hockey Capital. It is the location of the country’s largest pond hockey event, the Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships. Last year, the 13th annual event drew nearly 300 teams from 20 states.

Today, the ERRA is funding two indoor rinks with complete ice-making systems, the result of increased demand for ice time in recent years. However, all the history of hockey here and the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame headquarters can be found in the Dome.

We back this campaign because it’s a family-oriented youth program worth supporting.

Behind the editorial ‘we’

    Members of the Vilas County News-Review editorial board include Publisher Kurt Krueger, Editor Gary Ridderbusch and Assistant Editor Doug Etten.