By Barbie Porter
The sounds of ice skates cutting ice to perform a hockey stop, along with laughter and “opes” could be heard near the public beach in Vergas last week.
The beach, which is home to the world’s largest loon and a massive park, added another amenity to its long list—a skating rink.
Amongst the residents and visitors enjoying the new rink was Dennis Pausch.
“I was impressed with how many people were out there skating,” he said. “Normally, I try to put a rink in front of the house, but the lake gets rough. Others who tried have had the same issue. But Vergas figured it out.”
Vergas Utilities Superintendent Mike DuFrane passed the praise along to the fire department, in particular Jeff Zitzow.
DuFrane said the snow was blown from the lake to create the skating rink area. As expected, the ice on Long Lake had heaves and was uneven.
“We talked to a couple of different people (who maintained public ice rinks),” DuFrane said, adding the trick to having a smooth lake surface is coating the top with a layer of water. “The Vergas Fire Department gave us a water tank when they got rid of a grass rig years ago. We put that in the truck and tried spraying the top that way. It didn’t take long and we realized that wasn’t going to work.”
Before the city crew could get discouraged, a pickup drove down to the public beach entrance.
“It was Jeff Zitzow,” DuFrane said. “He came down to tell us he was going to get the fire truck. He brought that down, flooded it and it froze up right away.”
From clearing the rink to flooding it, DuFrane said it only took a few hours.
“It was easier than I thought it would be,” he divulged, then noted Vergas resident and park board member Sherri Hanson spearheaded the project.
Hanson bounced the ball of appreciation back into DuFrane’s court and said the idea actually belonged to him.
“Mike (DuFrane) was the guy who pushed for it, and I believe he has been doing so for a number of years,” Hanson said.
The idea was welcomed, as the city of Vergas has no public skating rink. However, liability concerns of having a rink on a lake needed to be investigated and answered first. The park board learned the rink was possible, and the requirements outlined from the League of Minnesota Cities was minimal, such as regularly checking ice depths at the rink location.
“We hope to see it grow and people use it,” Hanson said. “I love what Frazee did with theirs. They have a little warming house with extra skates and lights over the rink.”
DuFrane was going to talk to the Frazee utilities crew and get ideas for creating a makeshift zamboni.
The recent snow fall that dropped a few feet of white powder on the skating rink put another discussion on the park board’s agenda. The weight of the snow created an unforeseen problem for the rink.
“Mike (DuFrane) went down to the rink to shovel the day after (the first snow storm) and the lake was flooding,” Hanson said. “With the cold, freezing temperatures that are expected he decided to wait until they come before clearing it.”
Most additions come with unexpected lessons in the first year, and Hanson said the park board plans to address those concerns at an upcoming meeting, and hopefully create a plan on what to do when the snow is so heavy it pushes the ice down, as well as potential lights for evening skating.
“I love the rink being on the lake, but I didn’t recognize the extra problems that go with that,” Hanson said, adding the park board may also discuss different location options for future years, as its inaugural year has drawn large crowds.