Ouray Ice Park is closer to a major expansion with a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado, the state agency funding outdoor-related projects with lottery revenues.

The $100,000 grant is "the jumpstart that we need," said Peter O'Neil, executive director of the nonprofit overseeing the southwest Colorado playground beloved by ice climbers around the world.

The money will help pay for the creation of more frozen curtains and daggers across the Uncomphgre Gorge. "So more people can come climb in the park and not feel crowded," O'Neil said. "And more people in the park means the city of Ouray thrives more in the winter."

A new pump figures to funnel more water to new pipes and shower heads across a blank face of the gorge, where plans call for up to 40 new routes to join the current set of 150. The ice park is formed every winter with water sprayed and farmed over frigid nights.

The climbing terrain is expected to eventually cover a nearly 1 1/2-mile stretch of the gorge that entered the park in 2012, following a land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service. Ice routes on this stretch have never been formed due to a lack of infrastructure and water.

Ouray Ice Park has been limited to leftover remains of city-owned tanks dedicated to drinking water — a supply that has dwindled over the years due to increased demand and drier winters. With strained water, O'Neil said ice farmers have had to be "judicious" about how they decide on routes.

But now comes "a water source that will sustain us well into the future," O'Neil said.

That's thanks to a year-long collaboration with Ouray Ice Park and Ouray Silver Mines. The company has agreed to donate rights to water pulled near the confluence of Cañon Creek and Uncompahgre River. Pending the court's approval of the transfer, O'Neil said construction could start next year on a diverting system that would feed the park's walls.

O'Neil's nonprofit is in the midst of a $1 million fundraising campaign. Along with the new pump, pipes and shower heads, the money will go toward building the kind of aerial walkway that climbers have come to know on the other side of the park, granting quick access to routes.

The campaign "has really picked up steam with GOCO stepping up," O'Neil said.

The remote town of Ouray has thanked the ice park for fueling its winter economy. Last season, rangers counted a record 22,000 visitors, O'Neil said.


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