Bringing Back the Ice 2024 • A Celebration of Winter Magic at Hoyt Park

Five Weeks of Family Friendly Outdoor Activities Set to Start January 20th

    Additional Reporting by
    icon Jan 11, 2024
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by Robert E. Martin

With one of the most beautiful and accessible skating and sledding facilities available in the Great Lakes Bay Region, The Friends of Hoyt Park, Positive Results in Downtown Saginaw, and the Saginaw County Parks & Recreation department are once again joining forces up to pull together a fun-filled smorgasbord of unique Winter outdoor activities for the 2024 installment of Bringing Back the Ice at Hoyt Park, which will begin on Saturday, January 20th and conclude with the 10th Annual Outhouse Race on Saturday, February 17th.

While keeping their fingers crossed for cold temperatures, regardless if the weather cooperates or not, plans are moving forward to feature Free Open Skating, Hockey & Sledding, affordable $2.00 skate rentals along with equally affordable sled & toboggan rentals,  and free hot chocolate & cookies served at Hoyt Park’s renovated warming house, along with several new events designed to make the most out of these winter months.

“After January 10th it’s supposed to stay cold enough during the day and night for things to freeze over, so we should have ten days to prepare the ice,” explains BBTI Chairman Larry Brethauer. “While we can’t make the snow, it should be cold enough to make ice for the skaters and for people to sled down the hill with plastic sleds we have available. They don’t have the resistance metal sleds do and they don’t get stuck in the ground like the old metal sleds did.”

Last year because of warmer temperatures, organizers had to cancel many of the earlier weekly events and combine them into a one day extravaganza late in February, but according to Positive Result Chairwoman Jeanne Conger, “If for some reason the weather does not cooperate we will let people know if there are any date changes, so they can check with the media as we get closer to the kick-off date. Who knows, if it gets too warm maybe we can get some tubes and go tubing down the hill,” she jokes.

During the 1920’s when Hoyt Park was at its peak during the winter months, as many as 7,000 patrons would converge upon this expansive skating & sledding resource in one day, while averaging 100,000 skaters every winter; and throughout the decades it has remained the crown jewel of Saginaw’s parks & recreational programs.

With the downturn in population and diminished financial resources, in 2003 the City of Saginaw could no longer afford to maintain the facility, so consequently city baseball, softball, flag football and other recreational leagues, which had provided an outlet for residents through many generations, were suddenly no longer available. 

But in 2008 a concerned group of Saginaw citizens came together to help resurrect and maintain the historic park, forming a grassroots citizen group called The Friends of Hoyt Park.   

Spearheaded by Larry Brethauer and Chris Packard, the Friends of Hoyt Park Board went to the city and signed a lease  to bring the park back to life.  Since that fateful date the success and popularity of their endeavors has proven to be a phenomenal grass-roots success, bringing baseball back to the historic facility, spearheading a $400,000 renovation to make the historic warming house operational for staging these popular annual winter events during this Bringing Back the Ice series.

Since its inception  Bringing Back the Ice has indeed proven that ‘if you build it they will come’. According to Brethauer, “Depending upon the weather we average between 300 to 1000 people for any given event.  With the Outhouse Races we can push up to 2000 attendees between the 3 to 4 hours we’re open.”

Brethauer notes that it’s hard to gauge attendance because of the size of Hoyt Park, which is also one of its strengths because of the fact people have room to move. “It might not look crowded on any given night, but this is a 20-acre park and we use 10-acres of it in the winter. If you start counting people on the ice you suddenly realize there might be 200 people because it’s the size of three hockey rinks and so spread out.”

“One way we keep track is through skate rentals, which average around 100; but more and more people are bringing their own skates. We do get more sledding than skating. One weekend from the north side of the park to the other side of the warming house there were sledders lined up all around the park, so there must have been thousands - way too many to count.”

Here’s a breakdown of the schedule:

• Night Skate Kick-Off Event • Saturday, January 20th • 4:00 - 7:00 PM.

This popular event is the only time during the series that the beautiful lights circling Hoyt Park are turned on for skating and sledding enthusiasts to enjoy evening outdoor use of the park, with event sponsor Kiss 107.1  doing live remotes to supply music to accompany your time on the ice

• School Skate • Saturday, January 27 • Noon - 4 PM.  

With this event, skaters & sledders are encouraged to promote their favorite team by wearing their team colors. “The schools don’t sign up ahead of time, so people should just show up and wear the colors of their favorite team. It doesn’t have to be the colors of a school you attend or graduated from, but can be any team like the U of M or Michigan State that you follow, “ explains Jeanne.

• Skate with the SVSU Hockey Team • Saturday, January 27 • Noon - 4 PM

This event allows skaters an opportunity to skate with the SVSU Hockey Team and learn some tricks of the trade!

• Skate With the Mascots • Saturday, February 3 • Noon - 4 PM •

Skaters can have fun carving the ice with their favorite sporting mascots, who will join them on the ice and participate in fun activities.

• Broom Ball • Saturday, February 3 • 1:00 - 3:00 PM •

This is a new event sponsored by Saginaw County Parks, 102.5 WIOG and 96.1 WHNN that consists o a f straw bottom on the end of a broom and a ball the size of a soccer ball, only made out of rubber.  Skaters attempt to sweep the ball into a net. Brooms and balls are provided and usually a mascot from Buffalo Wild Wings shows up to play with the kids. 

• Skate & Sledding • Saturday, February 17 •  

Skates and sleds will be provided to participating enthusiasts and this year there will be two contests: one with a $25.00 gift certificate awarded to the person wearing the craziest hat; and the other a new contest with a prize awarded to those who bring their sleds decorated in a creative manner.

According to Jeanne, “We’re going to eventually be holding a sledding competition, but wanted to get it started this year with a contest involving people who imaginatively decorate their sleds. Eventually we hope to build this into a race, but for now people can take their sleds or saucers and decorate them, or decorate a box and build it into a sled - however they wish to approach it.”

“We have about a dozen or better sleds and snowboards people can rent for a dollar, as well as a couple toboggans for rent for $2.00, and over 400 pairs of skates available for $2.00,” explains Larry. “Plus we have skater assistants to help people learn to skate. They’re like the walkers you see seniors using, only we use them to help people get their balance and learn how to skate, so people don’t need to be afraid if they’re new to the ice.”

• 10th Annual Outhouse Race • Saturday, February 17 • Starts at 1:00 PM.  

Sponsored by Positive Results Downtown, PRIDE and 97.3 JOE FM.

The annual Outhouse Race has evolved into one of the most entertaining exhibitions of winter ingenuity  featured in the region, drawing people from Houghton Lake and all parts of the state as teams design a unique outhouse, put it on skis, and attendees watch as the teams  attempt to pilot it to the finish line without falling in or off the crapper. Yes, this must simply be seen to be believed.

“We’re working on getting teams signed up right now,” explains Jeanne, “and this year we’ll be expanding the warming tent with beer, wine, and snacks, so people can watch the race from our expanded outside area if you wish to have your beverage and stand outside to watch the fun.”

“About eight teams participated in last year’s Outhouse Race  and I know we’ll be having some school participants from Saginaw Career Complex sending teams, and this year we’ve created these table decorations we’ve been distributing around town, which is a roll of toilet paper with the contact information for entering the race,” she continues. “So people can call that number or contact us at Positive Results if they would like to submit an outhouse entry.”

“We can provide them with the dimensions to use and instructions on how to build one, but would like people to contact us at least a week prior to the event if they wish to participate. Last year Saginaw Area Fireworks won the race and had a rocket on their outhouse, and we’re trying to get the fire department back as well. They put a battery in their outhouse so they could run a siren while racing down the hill; of course, the battery needed to run the siren was so heavy it made the outhouse difficult to push down the hill, but it sure was a lot of fun to watch!  

“I also remember the first year of this event we had a team enter a tropical outhouse and it was bitter cold in the teens with snow and ice all about and this guy was racing barefoot and in shorts. I couldn’t figure that out, but we do get some interesting entries.”

“People that would like to enter an Outhouse in the race are encouraged to contact us if they have questions and there is no entry fee anymore. We also offer cash prices of $300 for 1st Place, $140 for 2nd Place, and $50 for 3rd Place. Plus, the Saginaw Spirit donate their ‘Eagles Nest Package’ which is awarded for the Best in Show, and PRIDE also gives a case of toilet paper away.”

If you need plans on how to build an outhouse, feel free to call Positive Results Downtown (PRIDE at 989-753-9168 or email them at for a set of plans.

“There’s a couple new pavilions that will be going up in Hoyt Park this spring,” concludes Larry, “and one will have gas and water running to it so there will be a fireplace available, which is something new for next year that we’re looking forward to.”

“If there’s a water source coming in there, I’d like to see what it would take to be able to make our own snow if we need to. There’s a company in Midland that’s willing to bring their machines over to make the snow, so our hope is each year this special series of events keeps growing bigger and better.”

For more information and to become involved with the Friends of Hoyt Park or Positive Results Downtown you can contact Larry Brethauer at 989.284.0945 or Jeanne Conger at 989.753.9168. 

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