If the sight of 20 kids playing hockey in the park isn't the scene of a Norman Rockwell painting, it should have been.
That sight is now commonplace in Cahill Park, where on Thursday night, kids ages six through 13 slapped the puck around, while others enjoyed a more leisurely skate on the 100-by-200-foot ice rink. When the cold becomes too much to bear, families can take a break in the heated Cahill Pavilion.
Organized by Deb Dryden and Lori Rojas, more than a dozen volunteers have spent the last week flooding the park area just south of the warming house to create an ice rink for others in the neighborhood. The volunteers worked more than 10 hours to make the ice rink: three two-hour shifts on Monday, one two-hour shift on Tuesday and another two-hour shift on Wednesday.
A Bay tradition restored
The ice rinks at Cahill and Klode parks have been a Whitefish Bay tradition for decades. But while the village continued to flood the Klode rink throughout the years, the Cahill rink disappeared sometime in the 1990s.
When Brenda Szumski, who now serves on the Village Board, told the Dryden and Rojas families that Cahill used to have its own rink that she would skate on as a young girl, the Dryden and Rojas families decided the restore the Cahill rink in 2008.
With a narrow approval from Whitefish Bay trustees that year, the DPW once again started flooding the Cahill rink.
In December 2010, on the third year of the Cahill ice rink, the villagers volunteered to take over flooding duties because they were eager to start skating by Christmas. The DPW trained residents how to flood the rink. Brenda's husband Mark already had experience with the process, because he flooded ice rinks at Lake Bluff School during his high school and college years.
The job usually takes three people (and a lot of warm winter clothing). One person sprays a large fire hose upward and side to side, while another two people stand behind and move the hose. The hosing lasts about 10 minutes, and then they wait up to 30 minutes for it to freeze. Ice is formed one layer at a time to create the rink – and the more layers, the better.
Because Wisconsin winters are so inconsistent, Szumski said three weeks is an optimistic lifespan for an ice rink. Last year, the weather was so inconsistent that neither Cahill nor Klode received an ice rink.
A community gathering place
Once it's created, the park quickly turns into a gathering spot in the neighborhood. On Friday night, for example, the families are having an ice skating party and plan to order pizza for everyone who chips in a couple bucks.
Hugo Rojas, who has been actively involved in flooding the park the last couple years, said it's nice to see the kids playing with each other in an unstructured environment.
"These kids' activities are soccer, baseball, football...all these things are in the context of a league with parents, lines and referees. There's very little that they do that is unstructured and organic," he said. "This is kind of a throwback to how kids used to be. They can play with each other, make up their own rules and just have fun."
While standing on the side of the ice and watching his 13-year-old son race around and laugh with other kids, Rojas said the hard work by volunteers and the family-friendly fun that resulted from it is one of the reasons he's happy to call Whitefish Bay home.
"This is the sort of thing that brings a community together," he said. "It sounds cliche, but this type of thing is what makes Whitefish Bay such a great place to live: Kids and families coming together and building something on their own for no other reason than because it's good for the community."
(This article was updated at 9:05 a.m. Jan. 25)