CHIPPEWA FALLS — The 12th annual Northwest BeerFest, which is the top fundraiser for the Chippewa Youth Hockey Association, was originally scheduled to be held at their rink in April. Like so many other events, the plans were canceled when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
However, the beer-tasting event was rescheduled for this Saturday, and it has been relocated to the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, allowing for fest-goers to enjoy food and drinks outside.
“It’s a big space that is safe to walk around,” said event organizer Angella Niblett. “It gives us the opportunity to spread out a lot more.”
The Chippewa Youth Hockey Association worked with the Chippewa County Department of Public Health to develop a COVID-19 safety plan. Niblett said they have capped capacity at 500 people, and safety measures are in place ranging from hand-sanitizer stations to switching to disposable cups.
“We had to pass on the commemorative glasses this year,” she said.
Because the event is outside, food vending trucks will be on site. They typically have had 150 different beers on tap.
“We are expecting as many varieties of beer as the past,” she said.
The Chippewa Youth Hockey Association is operated entirely by its members, and doesn’t receive city dollars to operate the Chippewa Area Ice Arena.
“This event is huge in keeping our costs down for kids,” she said.
Steve Gibbs, vice president of the hockey association, said the club usually makes between $20,000 and $30,000 from the BeerFest fundraiser. In some past years, they’ve had 1,200 patrons attend the event.
“With all of our fundraisers being canceled, this is hugely important for keeping our rink viable,” Gibbs said.
The Chippewa Area Ice Arena has two rinks, and since purchasing new equipment in 2015, the ice on the newer, south sheet is maintained year-round. That changed this year because all games and practices were canceled when the pandemic hit.
“We took (the ice) off from March to June,” Gibbs explained. “It’s roughly $7,000 to $9,000 a month to keep it on.”
Gibbs said the building is back open with safety measures in place.
“We have teams in practicing, but we aren’t allowing any use of the locker rooms. They are getting dressed in the parking lot,” Gibbs said.
The Chippewa Area Ice Arena is located at 839 First Avenue in the northeast corner of the city. The Chippewa Youth Hockey Association formed in 1972, and the building was completed in 1978 with one skating rink. In October 2000, construction began on the south wing to add a second ice sheet. It was finished in January 2004.
The hockey association consists of about 250 families, totaling between 300 and 400 children in hockey and figure skating.
An outdoor rink was added in 2016 as part of a $1.1 million remodel of the building that included adding more locker rooms. The outdoor rink will host the “Cardinal Kickoff” on Saturday, Sept. 26, which is a fundraiser for the Chi-Hi Athletic Booster Club. That event is 6-11 p.m., and will include a live band.