Making Ice

Making ice

How public ice rinks are maintained

Story and photos by Jim Pennell


1. skaters play hockey on a public rink in Negaunee Township.

5. The ice at Lion’s Field in Marquette Township is shown.

Ice. It wouldn’t be winter in the U.P. without it. It coats our streets and causes cars to crash into one another. We chisel it off our windshields on frosty mornings. It forces us to walk in a cautious softshoe along sidewalks, knowing at any time our feet could go out from under us and we’ll be lying on the cold ground, embarrassed and hurting. It hangs in daggers off our buildings, waiting for the right time to fall with a roar. It’s the scourge of our lives during the winter yet there are a few people who painstakingly create ice, smooth it and protect it from snow and damage so others can skate on it.

Leon Crothers works for the Marquette Downtown Development Authority and for the past six years he’s laid the ice at the Marquette Commons rink.

“When they built the Commons they installed refrigeration pipe under the cement but then ran out of money and couldn’t afford the compressors that were needed so now we do the ice by hand,” Crothers said. “We try to get at least five or six good floods on it before we open it up. We’re lucky if we end up with an inch or an inch and a half of ice.

“Last year we didn’t have a rink at all because the weather didn’t permit it, but in past years we’ve had skating parties and other kinds of things,” Crothers added. “We don’t allow hockey because of the young kids skating there and the rink isn’t an oval, so it doesn’t work well for hockey. We usually start to lose the ice around March 10 because the sun gets higher in the sky and it starts to melt from underneath.”

If you do have the urge to play hockey on an outdoor rink, then the rink in Negaunee Township might the place for you.

“It’s not an official size hockey rink, but it’s a pretty good sized area,” said Bob Johnson, who is in charge of the rink, located behind the Negaunee Township Hall. “It is open at times for public skating but I’d say it’s about 85 percent hockey use. It’s lighted and there’s a warmup facility where you can change your skates and use a restroom. The high school team uses it for practice every once in a while and there are other teams that use it, but there’s no hockey league games scheduled there.”

The process of of building an ice rink is tedious and starts with a good foundation.

“A couple years ago we did some extensive work out there to level it off. We added about 60 cubic yards of topsoil and used a transit to make sure the ground was as level as possible,” Johnson said. “We try to wait until we get enough snow— about a foot or foot-and-a-half is a good amount—and then compact it down real tight. Once your base is compacted you can’t melt through it back down to the grass and you try to keep that base white if possible. We start off with a ridiculously small, normal garden hose and mist it off to get that surface real wet then let that freeze. We keep adding small amounts of water, like a quarter inch floods at a time, to build it up. When it starts to really get solidified we go up to three-eighths or half-inch floods of water over the top. There’s a fire hydrant in close proximity to the rink and later we’ll use an inch-and-a-half fire hose which rolls out 50 gallons a minute.”

To read the full story, please pick up a copy of this months Marquette Monthly at one of our distribution outlets.


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