This story was chosen as one of the top ten nominations to win Reader’s Digest’s “Most Beautiful Places in America” contest – a collective effort to discover corners where people are still kind and compassionate in an era of global pandemic and political division. . Make sure to vote for the story that you think should be nominated as the best place for visiting the Reader’s Digest website. Public voting closes on July 16. As a judge in the contest for three years in a row, GNN chose this story as one of the best.
It was a field of dreams, waiting to be built.
On Christmas Eve 2020, fire trucks rushed to Chittle’s home in the quiet little town of Manton, Michigan. It wasn’t from an accidental fire, or anything you might associate with a Christmas nightmare. Instead, it was a dream come true. The local fire department was there to collaborate on a project that would capture the imaginations of the 1,287 souls who call Manton home, bringing them months of joy during one of the darkest winters in living memory.
Outdoor activities and a slower pace of life are a mainstay in this rural city about 110 miles north of Grand Rapids. But, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the city to shut down, Scott Chittle decided the community needed a safe place to gather and something to spark some joy during the bleak winter months.
And what is a better activity to take people outside in the cold than ice skating?
To make her dream come true, Chittle searched the internet for YouTube tutorials on how to build an ice rink. He ordered a large 3,000 square foot tarp online and bought some wood to create the walls. It took 12 fire trucks to get enough water to fill the plot.
However, after his “field of dreams” was built, no one came.
So Chittle went door-to-door coercing neighbors to convince people to come see his creation, and soon Chittle’s backyard ice rink became a Manton hotspot. Parents collaborated to help Chittle buy second-hand skates and hockey sticks for all the children in the neighborhood. Soon enough, kids were skating and shooting, a fire was blazing, and hot chocolate was steaming in to-go cups.
“When things were tough, it was a place,” says neighbor Audrey Hooker. “We keep seeing more things donated. It was great because the whole community came together. It was amazing how everyone worked together thanks to Scott. “
Skaters were welcome at any time. Even with Chittle’s day job, he took aim at the Zamboni ice rink every night. And every Saturday from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. M., Dozens of children and their parents gathered at the ice rink for skating parties. String lights twinkled on the ice when the sun set early in the evening. The icy air smelled of grilled sausages and burning wood. Children who had been homebound for nearly a year laughed and squealed with delight as they skated around the rink with their hockey sticks.
The parents gathered together holding hot hot chocolate in their gloved hands, relieved that their children had found purpose again. It became a weekly event that neighbors could look forward to and offered a place for people to see each other in a socially distanced way. The rink was in full swing until March, when the ice began to thaw.
But the kindness didn’t stop with Chittle. When the community heard how much money they used to make this project a reality, they all helped. A Facebook fundraiser raised about $ 1,300, and letters sent to Chittle’s house filled with cash generated an additional $ 1,500, covering all costs with money to spare. Traffic increased dramatically around the ice rink as cars stopped only to see children skating. Many people even took the time to knock on Chittle’s door.
“Nearly 30 complete strangers have knocked on my door to shake my hand and say thank you,” says Chittle. “Most of them also gave me money. Three of them asked for a hug ”.
The companies began shipping supplies for next year’s ice rink, including exterior lights from Steel Light Company, a snow plow and shovels from Western Snow Plow, and a skate sharpener from Sparxs. Chittle even plans to expand the track to 5,000 square feet.
Although Chittle will have to invest in a larger tarp, the smaller one will not go to waste. Ed Salter, who has owned a Manton getaway cabin for 55 years, has decided to create his own community ice rink at his home in Clarkston, outside Detroit. He bought the smallest tarp from Chittle.
“This has been a community thing,” explains Chittle. “It’s not just me. I want to show the rest of the world what a little effort, the best intentions and the community can do not only for others but for the souls of all ”.
Chittle plans to recreate the ice rink in his backyard for many years to come, with plans to get bigger and better each year.
“I think the main thing I want everyone to know is that children’s memories last a lifetime,” says Hooker. “Scott made it possible in the darkest days.”
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