As Austin Henry pulls into the parking lot of the outdoor ice rinks on the Kanabec County Fairgrounds, he notices his friends are already there, starting to lace up their hockey skates.
This is a common scene for Henry, as he likes to get to the outdoor rinks as much as possible during the winter. “When I use the rinks, I like to play hockey, preferably with a few friends,” said Henry. He has been utilizing the outdoor rinks for a long time, and said he greatly appreciates all the volunteers who make the rink possible.
Henry said, “A typical day at the outdoor rinks would be putting my gear on either inside the warming house or on the bench of the rink. Then maybe shoveling a bit of snow if it’s too thick on the ice, then skating around having fun for a while, maybe losing a few pucks.” This type of activity is common among recreational and competitive hockey players alike.
While hockey is a main feature of the rinks, recreational skaters can also enjoy some ice time in the designated free skate rink in front of the warming house.
The outdoor rinks are located on the Kanabec County Fairgrounds at the south side of the Civic Center. The rinks are owned and operated by the Mora Area Youth Recreation Association.
These rinks provide an outdoor skating experience that is particularly conducive to the COVID-19 pandemic. Skaters can participate completely outside while in small pods for free. While the warming house is closed for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19 concerns, the rinks are still open and ready for use.
Creating skateable ice is precisely calculated and requires cold temperatures. “We started about three weeks ago,” said Ice Coordinator Matt Price. “We start by saturating the ground with water and letting that freeze. We use old firehose donated by the fire department. Night after night, we continue to spray water. When the temperature is on the warmer side we can only put down about an 1/8”-1/4” of water, on nights that are extremely cold (-30ºF), we can easily put down two or more inches of water,” said Price. After a few inches of ice has accumulated, the volunteers run a Zamboni over the ice to smooth out the bumps, then it is ready for skaters.
The whole ice making operation is run by a group of volunteers.
MAYRA President Patti Miller said, “There are generally 10 or more hockey dads that help with the flooding process. Parents with children involved in the Association fulfill a certain number of hours each season and their volunteer time flooding helps offset those hours.”
When it comes to rink flooding, there is a committed group of people that show up when the weather gets cold.
“We have a very dedicated group of hockey dads that help out. It doesn’t matter if it’s weeknights, weekends or holidays, if the temperature is right for flooding, they show up,” said Price.
Recently, new exterior lights were set up to give skaters a well-lit experience. The project was made possible by volunteers and donations from local businesses.
To receive updates about the outdoor rinks, follow the Mora Area Youth Recreation Association Facebook page or visit their website at www.mayrasports.com to learn more or donate to keep the rinks open.