ESCANABA - Mother Nature decides when the outdoor ice rinks will be open in Escanaba, according to recreation officials. They rely on consistent cold weather to make and maintain ice for skating.
"For us to make good safe ice rinks, we need to have cold temperatures consistently hitting single digits and in the teens to make a good solid base to work from," said Recreation Director Tom Penegor.
This time of year, the recreation department receives a lot of calls about the city's two outdoor ice rinks and when they're going to open, said Penegor.
"That question is a very hard one to answer because of the weather," he noted.
Depending on weather conditions, the city maintains rinks at Webster School and Royce Park. Each year, the goal is to open the two rinks for the Christmas season when many people are off for the holiday, said Penegor, adding that does not always happen.
"As a result of some warmer winters over the past several years, we have not been able to open our ice rinks during the holiday season," he said, offering some ice rink statistics from past winters.
"Four times in the last six years we opened the ice rinks during the first week in January and were able to keep them opened for about 50 days each year. Last year we were only open for two weeks and in 2006 we did not open for the first time ever," Penegor said.
City recreation employees look at the 10-day forecast when deciding whether or not to start watering for the outdoor skating season, Penegor explained.
"Creating and maintaining a good quality safe outside ice rink in an expensive endeavor," he added.
The rink process starts with two people watering the ground beginning around 4 a.m. and watering all morning long for four to five days depending how cold it is and the condition of the ground, he said. Both rinks are not on very flat surfaces and large which makes it more difficult to create a good base, he added.
Once the rink is created, it has to be maintained on a daily basis. Snow has to be plowed away. Each morning, the rinks are swept smooth with a sweeper before watering for the day.
On a daily average, about 50 skaters use the Webster ice rink while about 65 skaters use the Royce ice rink, said Penegor.
"The city enjoys providing good outdoor safe ice that can be used by everyone," he said. "Outdoor skating is a very good family activity providing that the weather cooperates."