Despite a bitter cold snap descending on the region, the Ottawa city government found a way for residents to continue enjoying Kansas’ outdoors.
The plan: flood a piece of Forest Park, located at 320 N. Locust St. The city explained why in a release on Dec. 29.
“The Parks Crew flooded the area west of the Horseshoe Pit in Forest Park to create an outdoor ice skating rink,” the post said. “...We realize this may only last a few days, but feel this is an excellent addition to the park and outdoor recreation activities.”
As the mercury began dropping last week, the parks division of Ottawa’s Public Works Department set to work constructing the impromptu rink on orders from Michael Haeffele, city director of public works. Haeffele said his imagination was sparked when he read the City of Lawrence was creating a similar skating rink at Sixth and Kentucky streets, Lawrence, in their Buford M. Watson, Jr. Park.
“The city manager and I decided to give it a try,” he said Wednesday. “From what I understand, the city used to do this many years ago in the same location. However, the last several years it hasn’t gotten cold enough long enough to be able to have it.”
The crews braved the chilly temps to set up the rink, and the process went without a hitch, Haeffele said.
“It was pretty easy,” he said. “We took a fire hose and attached it to a hydrant across the street. We ran the fire hose down the ditch, and there’s a tube that curves across the street.
“Everything flowed across the street through that tube, and started filling the area up after we dammed it.”
The park’s rink provides a safe alternative to skating on deep ice.
“At its deepest point, is only about 20 inches deep,” Haeffele said. “So somebody is really going to have to try, to get stuck underneath or seriously injured by it.”
The ice should be skateable through the end of today and into tomorrow, Haeffele said. Even so, his department is monitoring the ice closely.
“It’s still cold enough that it is not melting,” Haeffele said. “We’ll be keeping an eye on it, and we’ll keep everyone updated on Facebook.”
Haeffele reported sizable participation from the local populace.
“It’s been used quite a bit,” he said. “In years to come, if it gets cold enough, I can definitely see us continuing to revive this tradition.”
Haeffele thanked the parks crew for giving Ottawans a chance at winter fun.
“I really do want to thank the parks crew for jumping in and taking care of it,” he said. ”They are the ones that did the work to build the dam, got it filled up and spent a little extra time making sure that everything was going to hold and that we had enough water in it. So I’d like to extend a thank you to those employees.”
The widely shared Facebook post announcing the rink was met with surprise, praise and reminiscence online.
“I know we just did this in Colorado, but who knew we’d get back to Kansas and be able to do it?” commented Lucinda Cox.
While the experience was novel for some, others saw the impromptu ice rink as a revival of an old tradition.
“My dad used to talk about ice skating in the park,” Paula Crowell said. “Thank you, City of Ottawa Kansas Municipal Government, for giving Ottawans another option for exercise, activity and something different to do before the kiddos go back to school. Cheap, fun entertainment!”
Some residents, like Brenda Robertson, even offered to loan pairs of skates out to winter adventure seekers. Others were simply happy for a local opportunity to ice skate.
“We don’t have to drive to Lawrence now,” Lisa Young said of the Ottawa ice rink.