By Kristen Miller
COKATO, DASSEL, MN “We’ve never had a year like this before,” said Jeremy Quaas of his seven years as an attendant for the Mooers Park outdoor rinks in Cokato.
Quaas, along with Jeff Salmela, is responsible for distributing the half-million gallons of water it takes to cover the three rinks with 4 to 5 inches of ice each winter.
Though the two have been trying since Thanksgiving to get the rinks ready for outdoor skating, Mother Nature just hasn’t been cooperating, Quaas said, adding that they have three attendants ready to go to work, but there was no work to do as of Wednesday.
“We’ve never had a year this late,” Quaas said, who has been doing the job for roughly the past seven winters. “We’ve always been open before Christmas.”
January’s unseasonably warm temperatures have delayed the ice-making process Tuesday’s highs were in the 50s but if temperatures remain below freezing, Quaas was hoping to have the rinks ready by Saturday, Jan. 14.
Maurice Niemela is the lead instructor, along with Abe Niemela, for DC Youth Hockey.
Typically, they are out skating around the first of the year, Maurice said.
This year, the plan was to start the outdoor hockey program Jan. 3, therefore delaying the season by only just over a week-and-a-half, or three skates, Maurice said. He had hopes that the recent cold temperatures would allow the program to begin this past Saturday. They may even choose to extend the season a bit if the weather allows, he said. The program usually goes through mid-March.
Typically, they have canceled practice due to extremely cold weather, he said. This year, it has been the opposite.
It’s been a different story for Dassel’s skating rink, however, which has been open since before Christmas vacation, according to Dassel Public Works Director Dave Scepaniak.
The warm weather did have an affect on the ice, but he said there was good base on it.
Since Christmas vacation, it’s been flooded twice he said, noting it’s about 4 to 6 inches thick now.
Why such a difference among the two? “They’re in a wet spot,” said Salmela, explaining that the water for the Dassel rink doesn’t saturate into the ground as quickly as in Mooers Park.
“The first two weeks, you couldn’t even tell we were out there [flooding the rinks],” he said.
Aside from the warmer temps, the lack of snow was also a factor in the flooding process. “The snow actually helps you get a real good base,” he said, explaining that it helps keep the water from saturating the ground.
Salmela said that they are looking into options, such as a liner that would hold the water.
Once the ice is strong, the Zamboni, driven by Chuck Keskey, will maintain good ice.
“It’s a very positive thing,” Salmela said of the Zamboni.