City ice rinks hard to maintain in mild weather

Chatfield's ice skating and hockey rinks have been flooded for local skaters and hockey players, but the weather has been too warm to keep them maintained to city maintenance foreman Brian Burkholder's satisfaction. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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Making ice: A science, not a rinky-dink endeavor.

“I do not remember the exact date the city started working on the ice rinks, but it was around the first of December, after the ground froze and the temps were around 10 to 15 degrees,” related Chatfield’s city maintenance foreman Brian Burkholder, speaking of the work it takes to keep a plate of ice on the skating and hockey rinks in Mill Creek Park.

He elaborated, “People frequently ask why the rinks are not ready when the temps are 25 to 30 degrees out and nice. It is very tough to make good ice during that time, as it needs to be 10 to 15 degrees with less or no sun, and before that, we need to wait for the ground to freeze before we can start.”

And that’s a big project once the city crew determines that it’s time to flood the ice-skating and hockey rinks — there’s more than just a few drops of water to be hauled down the hill.

“It takes roughly 12 to 15 loads of water, or 20,000 to 25,000 gallons, to get both rinks ready with good sheets of ice,” Burkholder explained. “If the temperature is around 10 or less consistently, we attempt to keep adding layers through the evening to get it ready quicker so it can be used during the day. When we flood during the day, it takes around two hours to freeze completely. After that, we sweep both rinks each morning if needed and then flood the rinks, adding another layer. If the temps are favorable throughout the day, we keep adding layers.”

The effects of a changing climate have made it harder for the city workers to predict when they’ll be able to lay out a smooth surface.

“It has been a tough year to make ice, as we have had above average temps,” Burkholder said. “This was our second time resurfacing the rink, as we lost most of it during the latest 40-degree sprint, and by the sound of it, we will lose it again this week. We had it skate-able in early December, but the 40-degree days melted most of it. When the temps got down to 10 to 15 degrees again between Christmas and New Year’s, we were able to start again.”

Burkholder pointed out that the smaller rink to the east of the hockey rink is generally for ice skating, but there are sometimes enough hockey players that it gets used for a game of pucks.

“It is for ice skating but can also be used for hockey if the large rink is not ready,” he reiterated. “This rink freezes quicker, as it is outside the walls and gets more cold air or breeze.”

Both rinks can be used night or day, as they’re lit by streetlights on a switch. “By the sounds of it, they do get used quite a bit. I haven’t been down there much in the evenings to witness,” Burkholder said. “If someone wants to use the rinks, they should turn the lights off when the last person leaves — they get left on often — and turn the heater off in the warming house when done, and clean up trash. It’s helpful if they obey the ‘stay off’ sign when posted when the ice is slushy or there are extremely warm temps. If skated on when slushy, it makes big ruts, and it is tough to make it flat again, and please, no driving vehicles on rinks for that same reason.”

Burkholder concluded that he is happy to help keep skaters and hockey players on a frozen sheet all winter. “It is posted on the city’s website whether the rinks are open or closed, and I’m glad to see and hear that people are having fun, giving people something to do in the winter months,” he said.

For more information, log onto the Chatfield city website at