Sledding spot drawing dozensCity plans future improvements for amphitheater users.
By: Chris Huber, The Daily Republic
Mitchell’s most popular place to go dashing through the snow has been teeming with people eager to hop on their sleds, tubes and snowboards this winter.
But the Lake Mitchell amphitheater — a largely undeveloped, half-bowl shaped area near the lake’s southern end — remains without upgrades or safety features.
Dusty Rodiek, the city of Mitchell’s parks, recreation and forestry director, said improvements are in his department’s five-year plan.
In the meantime, Rodiek is happy to see people using the area.
“That is what it is there for,” he said. “We don’t really get a lot of summer use out of it, so it’s good to see people going out there.”
William Schaefer, 11, of Mitchell, could be seen flying over a small ramp on the hill while approximately 20 children used the area last Thursday afternoon. Schaefer said he has been to the hill a few times this year and his favorite part is the jumps that sledders have built into the hillside, but he wishes they were bigger.
Among the long-term upgrades Rodiek envisions for the amphitheater is nighttime lighting, to make the area safer after sundown. The lightpoles from the former tennis courts at Dry Run Creek Park were saved with that project in mind.
Rodiek hasn’t looked too much into other improvements but did say using a tow-rope-type lift to get sledders back up the hill could be an option.
One of the problems at the amphitheater is the frequency with which sledders collide as they all speed toward a basinlike collecting point at the bottom. Rodiek said the city could consider using snow fence to create designated lanes on the hill, but he noted that might create more problems than it solves.
“That’s not really an area we have explored too far in depth,” he said. “We could look at that when we look at installing lights.
“We hope the users would use common sense and be careful when they are using that area. I know there are a lot of children out there, and it’s not always easy, but people just need to try and stay under control.”
Lisa Kunkel, of Mitchell, was watching her two sons and nephew sled at the hill last week and agreed with Rodiek. She wasn’t overly concerned with the safety of the area.
“I think if everyone watches out and runs out of the way like they do, they will be fine,” she said.
The amphitheater is believed to have been carved out of the lake shore during the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration project. Other than its identity as a wintertime sledding spot, it’s a largely forgotten part of Mitchell’s public parks system and is seldom used in the spring, summer or fall. There are recreational trails that open onto both ends of the amphitheater, and the trails, which meander through wooded areas by the lake, have been improved and expanded in recent years.
There was a proposal several years ago to turn the amphitheater into a fixed-seat concert facility in conjunction with the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village. Those talks faded and, according to Executive Director of the Prehistoric Indian Village Cindy Gregg, are unlikely to be revived.
“That happened before I was here at the village, and I have no interest in pursuing that issue,” Gregg said.
“As far as I am concerned, we are not in the concert business; we are in the museum business. Personally, I like it as a sledding hill.”