IRON MOUNTAIN – The Crystal Lake Community Center delivered as promised to the residents of Dickinson County for many years. Operated and maintained by the county, the facility experienced tremendous use. Citizens of all ages took advantage of the pool, racquetball courts and other amenities through the years.

Many older residents of the county reflect fondly on the memories they shared at the Crystal Lake Community Center as kids.

“I can remember walking there, meeting up with my friends, swimming and just having fun,” said John Jamar, chairperson of the YMCA Capital Campaign. “We were really fortunate to have the facility, a safe outlet.”

Over time, however, the age of the facility and related expenses to maintain it began to tip in the wrong direction. Use and membership declined, and the best years of the Community Center seemed destined to remain in the past.

By the early 2000s, the Dickinson County board even contemplated closing the building due to the ever increasing costs of maintenance and upkeep. This concerned many including a dedicated group of swim families and individuals.

There was a swim team competing out the Community Center loosely affiliated with a Michigan YMCA organization at the time, and those participants didn’t know where they would go if the building and subsequently the pool were closed.   

“It wasn’t just the pool,” Jamar noted. “We were concerned about the whole situation. In its best days, the Community Center provided so many opportunities for our youth. Where were our kids going to go for those same opportunities?”

Brainstorming options, the idea of forming a YMCA in Dickinson County was discussed and determined to be the best path to pursue. Research and planning also began on an office location and potential partners and spaces to offer programming.

According to YMCA bylaws, the population of Dickinson County didn’t meet the threshold for a stand-alone YMCA. The national sanctioning body required at least 50,000 residents in a community in order to charter a single YMCA. So Dickinson County needed to become part of an already established YMCA association.

The committee evaluated several locations including Rhinelander, and Delta County.

“From the beginning of this process, the board and staff at Escanaba really welcomed us with open arms,” Jamar noted. “Having been established and successful for more than 30 years, we clearly saw an opportunity for a partnership that could prove mutually beneficial.”

Partnering with the Delta location, the new Dickinson YMCA organized a fundraising campaign called the Founder’s Campaign that raised nearly $500,000.

The plan for those campaign funds was to hire staff, operate a small office and rent our various spaces for programming for three years while a Capital Campaign was organized to build a permanent facility.

A YMCA office was opened on Carpenter Avenue, but operations for the newly formed Northern Lights YMCA Dickinson Center didn’t last long at that location. With the continuing fiscal struggles of the operating and maintaining the Community Center, the Dickinson County Board decided to offer the building to the newly formed YMCA in a lease agreement with the option to buy.

“It was a great offer from the county, and with the success of our Founder’s Campaign, we knew we had the funding in place to get the building up and running properly,” Nash said.

The Founder’s Campaign money allowed the YMCA to make immediate repairs and remodels to the Community Center as well as furnish fitness equipment and meet other programming needs.

“It allowed us to get started as a YMCA,” current Center Director Jonathan Ringel said. “We knew we were not going to be able to make any major upgrades to the facility right away. But it allowed us to open our doors as a Y. We were able clean up and refresh, staff and maintain the building. It also allowed us to buy our equipment and fund some early programming. It gave us a solid footing from which to build and grow.”

And grow it did. The support of the community to get the YMCA rolling was only the start. A rapidly growing membership base soon followed.