Jesse Snyder said there is nothing like getting outside to play hockey. His favorite part is when there are 20 or so people at the ice rink so they can get a game going.
Snyder and a few other friends, including Josh Hintz and Mike Doriott, stopped by the outdoor hockey rinks in Andover by Sunshine Park and the public works building Dec. 26.
Across Anoka County, community ice rinks have started to open over the past couple of weeks after the weather got cold enough to lay ice.
What Hintz remembers about last year is not having good ice until sometime in January because of the thawing and freezing cycle making it tough to get a good smooth surface on which to skate.
According to East Bethel Public Works Manager Nate Ayshford, who previously worked in the Ham Lake Public Works Department, city crews need to wait until the daytime temperatures are consistently below freezing before outdoor ice rinks can be opened.
“It’s nice when the nighttime temperatures are in the single digits so we can get out there and the water can freeze before the sun shines on it,” Ayshford said.
Anoka Public Services Director Greg Lee said he would have liked to have had the five city ice rinks ready by Dec. 15 so the kids could get as much skating time as possible when they went on winter break. However, Anoka’s ice rinks did not open until last week.
Lee said most city ice rinks have a grass base and it takes time to build a frozen base beneath the ice.
It must then be cold enough for crews to build the initial layer of ice and then come back and keep adding to the ice, he said.
He changed some working shifts so the ice rinks could be built up around the clock, Lee said.
When the temperatures rose to the high 30s and low 40s, that delayed the opening of the ice rinks in Anoka, he said.
Spring Lake Park Public Works Director Terry Randall said the city has been flooding their rinks since Thanksgiving because they have a grass base.
Once the ice rinks are formed, they must be regularly maintained regardless of weather conditions. Snow and rising temperatures, even if only for a day or two, do create more trouble, however.
East Bethel’s only outdoor rink is located next to the East Bethel Ice Arena. Ayshford said the public works department employees typically spray a water mist on the rink each day if it is being used in order to fill in the cuts caused by skates and make a smooth surface again.
From time to time they have to bring out a Bobcat or even a front-end loader in extreme cases to clear snow, while the snow stuck in the corners that the machines cannot easily get to is cleared by hand tools, he said.
Like East Bethel, the three skating rinks and two hockey rinks the city of Spring Lake Park has at Able Park and Terrace Park must be regularly flooded to keep a fresh and smooth layer of ice, Randall said.
Lee said Anoka loads up a water tanker twice a week to flood its five rinks.
Some communities from time to time have looked at cutting back on ice rink offerings.
Andover in 2009 considered closing the hockey and skating rinks at Hawk Ridge Park because of the cost of trucking water to maintain the rinks in far northern Andover, just south of the border with Oak Grove.
After neighborhood residents asked the city to keep the rinks and after a major Hawk Ridge Park renovation added an irrigation system, the rinks remained open in a new location within the park. Andover has skating and/or hockey rinks at six city parks and the area on the north side of Crosstown Boulevard by the public works building.
Lee said Anoka about four years ago had two additional skating rinks at city parks that had no warming houses. These were not well used, so they were eliminated, and Anoka has stuck to five skating rinks at the five city parks with warming houses, he said.
Rinks will typically be open until early to mid-February, according to the public works directors, but it all depends on the weather, of course. Once it gets to February, the sunshine gets really intense on the rinks and they start melting, Lee said.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]