West Allis ice rink brings back park's warm memories
LaFollette volunteers enjoy seeing skaters make use of attraction
West Allis — The two men's breath billowed white into the winter air as they gripped a thick heavy hose, from which a plume of icy water gushed on a bitterly cold December night.
While they stood outside the LaFollette Park pavilion, inside were three other men trying to warm up after their turns on the hose. Their turn would soon come again as the stout volunteers worked late into the night to make an ice rink for all who love skating through winter.
Some say an ice rink hasn't been at LaFollette Park, at 9418 W. Washington St., for more than 20 years. But the memories of it warm them to this day.
"Neighborhood people tell us the kids would go hang out there," said Barry Waddell, one of the five Friends of LaFollete Park ice rink volunteers on hand for the task. "I think a lot of people have fond memories."
The right ice
This winter has been kind to their efforts, with the ice finding little reason to melt since the rink became a reality. But the project took some extra care at the start.
Waddell and the others patiently flooded the rink again and again, laying down layer after layer of ice. Ironically, the bitter cold that clawed at them actually helped them finish faster.
"By the time we got to the end of the rink the other end was frozen," Waddell said.
The plume of water was beautiful as it arched from the hose, but it was tough on the hose handlers.
"My gloves were getting soaked and the sleeves on my jacket were getting soaked," said volunteer Matt Moore. "My coat was frozen and I walked like a Popsicle."
Although the pavilion was warmer than outside, Moore and the others found they couldn't warm up much because of their wet clothing.
The crew finally finished about midnight.
While people living around the park were peacefully asleep, the laborers looked onto the fruits of their cold night's work.
"It was brand new shiny ice," Waddell said. "The moon was shining off it."
Shiny fruits of their labor
"We were all pretty tired, we all have day jobs," he said. "But it's worth it seeing the kids out there."
"It was definitely worth it. I'll do it again," he said. "I like to see the other people using it."
And so they have, depending on how cold the weather has been. Sometimes only one or two skaters can be glimpsed gliding on the ice. At other times there were 15 or 20. Smetimes a hockey game has broken out.
One day, Moore was skating with his wife, Kelly, and some kids needed another hockey player. He had never played, but he was game.
"I had a fun time learning and falling down," he said.
Other times it was just him and Kelly on the ice. They skated hand-in-hand like you see in the old movies, though perhaps with a bit more of a wobbly gait.
"It was a little romantic," Moore said.
Milwaukee County gave permission for the Friends of LaFollette Park to create the rink and helped out by preparing the site and keeping the pavilion open certain hours for the skaters. The rink itself is open all the time.
County workers also have cleared snow from the rink. Sometimes skaters haven't waited and have shoveled areas to skate on. Occasionally, the Friends scraped and touched up the ice as they probably will have to do after this week's predicted warm snap.
Waddell said he hopes Milwaukee County will allow a rink next winter, too. If it does, the Friends will be ready.
Sampling of hours when pavilion is open for skaters' convenience:
Friday, Feb. 21 — 2 to 5:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 22 — 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 23 — 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Monday and Wednesay, Feb. 24 and 26 — 2 to 9 p.m.
Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Feb. 25, 27 and 28 — 2 to 5:30 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, March 1 and 2 — 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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