Ice. Long ago, they hacked it in chunks out of rivers and shipped it on railroad cars to places not so frigidly blessed. Push a lever on your fridge, and an avalanche comes tumbling down. Drive up to any convenience store on a summer day, and you can load the cooler with 5-pound bags for a couple of bucks. In the winter, the dreaded black ice blankets the driveway as you teeter to your car.
Water plus freezing temperatures equals ice. Seems like a simple enough equation, but two local municipalities are finding it’s a slippery slope when it comes to creating and maintaining an outdoor rink, another classic example of man vs. nature.
The outdoor rink at the popular soccer and softball field was a mainstay in the childhoods of many hometown kids.
I lived right over there on Hyde Boulevard, and the rink took up most of the field, said Jim Regis. `Our parents always knew where we were in the winter, because we were always here.`
Regis is now a member of the village Department of Public Works, the group responsible for getting the rink up to speed this year. Friday night, Jan. 25, Regis sat with a co-worker in a DPW truck and stared at the bumpy, choppy ice and water mix that was refusing to cooperate.
`I don’t know what the trick is,` said Regis.
Crews were out all day and night Friday blasting the small area in the back field with torrents of water from a nearby hydrant. They returned Saturday morning to try to transform the site into a sheet of glass. But despite the chilly temps, the water seeped into the half-frozen ground, trickled into muddy pools, and formed a bump like a pitcher’s mound in the center.
The major drawback of the property, owned by the Ballston Spa School District, is that there’s lots of drainage underfoot, great in the spring for keeping the soccer fields from becoming quick sand, not so great for soaking up a base for an ice rink.
`We moved it over here by the fence to try and hit a spot that didn’t drain right out, but so far, no luck,` said Regis.
The sprawling field, with its great central location in the village, also has a spacious warming facility with bathrooms and vending machines, owned by the Ballston Area Recreation Commission. In previous years, people donated skates on shelves lining the building, but this year, those skates might be staying on those shelves.
`We’re at the mercy of Mother Nature,` Regis said of the wildly fluctuating temperatures, particularly since Christmas.
Harnessing the forces
Saturday morning, Jan. 26, at the Burgess-Kimball Memorial Park, the town of Milton’s largest and most popular facility located a snowball’s throw from town hall, the outdoor rink looked like was just groomed by a Zamboni.
The football field-sized rink is the pet project of town supervisor Frank Thompson, who keeps an eye on the ice like a loving parent.
`We use a propane blow torch to smooth out those bumps there,` said Thompson, pointing to tiny impressions on the surface. `They’re fine for hockey skates, but you get kids out here with figure skates, hitting a bump could make them stumble.`
This is the town’s third year offering a free, outdoor municipal rink, and Thompson said he’s learned a few tricks of the trade.
`We start out with a lawn sprinkler so it doesn’t put down heavy water; the lighter water forms a crusty base,` said Thompson. `Then, we were out here for 34 hours straight flooding it with 4,000 gallons of water.`
Members of the Rock City Falls fire department helped with the heavy hose equipment, and Heritage Springs Water Co.
donated water. Thompson said they met their icy success on days registering about 7 degrees, and for their brave battle with the elements, their reward is a solid sheet of ice.
`We’ll expand it soon by plowing back the snow banks,` said Thompson. `Now that it’s up, unless the temperature starts to jump around, it’s easier to maintain. This whole thing, building and maintaining it costs the town about $1,200 a year. It’s for the kids; anytime you can give something to the kids and parents to remind them of the old days, we do it.`
There’s a heated warming shed, and Thompson said by this upcoming weekend, they’ll be offering hot chocolate and popcorn.
`The town board doesn’t know it yet, but they’ll be out here volunteering with me on weekends to keep a look out,` said Thompson.
The best test of good ice is when future Olympic hockey players show up to practice their game. Saturday morning, Dan Detora had his son, Will, 4, and nephew Evan Loveland, 6, laced up and moving with amazing speed and agility on the ice.
`It’s awesome ice,` said Detora.
Detora, who is director of dining services at Union College in Schenectady and follows the hockey team closely, taught his son to skate using pickle barrels for balance.
`Kids used to lean on those orange construction cones, but you just can’t maneuver around with them,` explained Detora.
Will Detora, with his curly hair tucked under a helmet with faceguard, said he plans to play in the big leagues one day.
`The hardest part about learning to skate is stopping,` said Will Detora. `Sometimes your back starts aching, and you want to take a rest, but if you want to play pro, you need to keep going.`