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Neighbors Create Ice Rink and Community Hot Spot

An old fire house is used to create the skating rink at Cahill Park, which becomes a neighborhood gathering space over the summer.

As the days grow colder and the ground starts to freeze, Debra Dryden and her neighbors start making plans to create an ice skating rink at in Whitefish Bay.

The project is the success of Dryden and neighbor Lori Rojas, after they approached the Village Board and urged them to approve the yearly construction of the ice rink.

Once the weather provides a long stretch of frigid temperatures, several residents come together to create the ice.

“We usually do (it in) two hour shifts starting whenever it gets cold enough, but it's usually (starts) about seven, eight o-clock (at night) until the last shift, which is as late as they're willing to stay,” Dryden said.

There's a technique used to make the rink and it just so happens that Mark Szumski, a board member of the Whitefish Bay Civic Foundation, knows how to do it. Szumski used to flood ice rinks in high school and college, so when he heard about the community effort at Cahill, he offered up his expertise.

“The DPW in Whitefish Bay gave us a little tutorial and actually trained us, but then Mark kind of supervised a few different groups so that we could spread the knowledge,” said Dryden.

“We take a big fire hose that the old fire department gave to us and we haul it across and use the hose,” Rojas explained. Volunteers hook up the hose and use it to spray water in a 100-by-200 foot area. “There's enough for hockey to be going on at one end and a little skating at the other,” Dryden said.

Ice is formed one layer at a time to create the rink. The process is something you can't rush; if you do, you could be faced with a setback. “Even if you've got thick ice and then you try to flood it with a thick layer (of water), it actually will melt the ice before it freezes,” Szumski said.

Volunteers quickly learned to wear old winter gear while doing the job, which requires at least three people to control the hose. If they're not careful, the powerful water hose can knock them on the ground.

It's a group effort

More than 50 families are on a mailing list created by Dryden and participate in some part of the setup or maintenance of the rink over the winter season.

The Department of Public Works removes any snow from the park so organizers have an area to create the rink. They'll also set out mats for skaters to walk on to keep their skate blades sharp. DPW will return and remove any additional snow after the rink is made, but the community tends to keep an eye on it as well.

“I know I've gone over with my snow blower and plowed the rink, but the DPW usually goes over (and plows),” Dryden said. “Otherwise, if there's a lot of people that happen to be out skating and it's snowing as they're skating, they'll skate around with a shovel.”

More than just a rink

The warming building at the park is heated and houses tables for skaters to sit at when they come inside to take a break. There's a gas fireplace inside the building, which is out of service. Organizers said they would like to see the fireplace restored, so skaters can enjoy it on a chilly day.

Although it takes awhile to create the rink, once it's completed the park quickly turns into a gathering spot in the neighborhood. Dryden said it's not uncommon for families to organize a chili cook-off or a taco party and host it at the park.

There's are other ideas in the works to keep the community socializing at the gathering place. “We've talked about doing an ice skate exchange. So if you have a pair that you grow out of and somebody else gets a pair, that kind of thing,” Rojas said.

The rink, which is free and open to the public, usually lasts until the end of February. After that, it starts to get slushy as spring slowly returns.

Rojas and her family moved to Whitefish Bay three years ago and said the park has been a great place to meet other families. “What I love about the rink and why I think we all got involved is because we all have kids that are of skating age and they spend a lot of their time over there,” She said.

Dryden agreed, noting that it's not uncommon to overhear children talking about how their parents helped to create the ice rinks. “They felt a sense of pride that their parents were helping with it,” She said.

StaynConnected December 19, 2011 at 04:36 PM
Thanks to all that are involved in this effort each winter. The Cahill ice rink is a great asset this time of year. Particular thanks goes to Debra Dryden and Lori Rojas. Without their efforts this would not be occurring.

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