Last night, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough recognized the Mat-Su Health Foundation and CEO Elizabeth Ripley for grants awarded to the Willow Library project and an alpine ski project on Borough land at the Government Peak Recreation Area.
The $1.698 million grant toward the Willow Library project may be the largest grant the Borough has ever received from Mat-Su Health. The $500,000 award to the nonprofit HAX, Hatcher Alpine Experience, moves the project another step toward purchasing a ski lift.
Assembly Member Randall Kowalke thanked Ripley.
"Never has your commitment to the community you operate in or are a part of ever been more apparent than in this grant. This is huge. It's a life-changer for our community," Kowalke said.
Willow Librarian Julie Mitchell unfurled a long red list in jest for the library and community center project. Mitchell said some 35,000 people pass through the doors each year. The community center is also home to the Iditarod official start. The project will provide more space for library programs, accessible shelves, and a front entry that doesn't flood, she said.
Bill Mailer, Vice Chair of the Willow Library Association, said the budget for the project is $5,660,000. The $1.698 million grant gets the project off the ground.
"It's a stunning amount of money and represents a huge responsibility and opportunity. We accept that opportunity to fulfill our obligations to the Mat-Su Health Foundation and the community in Willow. Thank you especially to Miss Ripley, the board and particularly Jim Beck on staff.
Borough Mayor Vern Halter thanked Mat-Su Health Foundation for their grants on two former library projects, Talkeetna and Sutton libraries, as well.
Assembly Member Barbara Doty rallied the crowd with the history of starting a downhill ski area at Hatcher Pass in the Talkeetna Mountains. "I remember coming to the Mat-Su in 1986 and thought what a great place for a downhill ski area. I remember watching the news and thought oh we're going to get one, no, we're not going to get one. It went back and forth...but a diligent hard-working group of people and some foresight of previous assembly members as well, put a little money in the kit, and a lot of hard work raised that to the point of where we could really see the possibility of a warming area and a parking lot and maybe we could get that lift there too," Doty said.
Louisa Branchflower is Board Chair of Hatcher Alpine Experience, HAX, a nonprofit that formed two years ago. This summer HAX built a maintenance building to house a SnoCat.
"5,120 bolts all done by hand. ... Our SnoCat is parked inside safe and secure, ready to start grooming the snow and trails this year," Branchflower said.
"We're real and we're actually making progress. And now thanks to the Mat-Su Health Foundation we're at a point where I can confidently say this is happening, we're going to have a lift. There's a small chance it'll be up and running by next winter, definitely the winter after that. And all thanks to the Mat-Su Health Foundation and to the Borough for you guys taking a chance on us last year and for the past 40 years of all the work that you guys have been trying to do to get something going up there. I'm really honored and thankful to be part of this last community effort to actually make it happen," Branchflower said.
Elizabeth Ripley said she was super grateful to be here. She gave credit to the hard work by the project advocates and the Borough as a partner.
"None of these would happen if you weren't doing the work."
"We try to make sure that those dollars land all over this borough...those dollars impact our economy...both these projects should leverage millions of dollars coming into our Borough...most important to us these projects build community. They connect people. The HAX group and the work they're doing connects people to our beloved Hatcher Pass and to mountains and alpine skiing. The Willow Library and community center connect people to resources and information and provide a space for people to come together. ...To be healthy you need to be connected. We need to be connected to each other. And these projects build connection and community," Ripley said.
View the HAX alpine project on their website. https://www.skihatcherpass.org
Visit the Willow Library site https://www.matsugov.us/facilities/willow-public-library#
View the grant press release at Mat-Su Health Foundation: