If cold weather ever sticks around in Janesville—forecasts show high temperatures in the mid-30s and low 40s for the next week—the city might have a public outdoor ice rink for the first time in years.
Janesville Youth Hockey President Edward Chady has led the volunteer effort to make it happen at Traxler Park, although uncooperative weather has undone the work so far.
Chady is undeterred because he believes the city needs a space for kids to skate and play.
“I think it’s great to have it open to the public to get people involved in skating,” he said. “There’s pretty limited ice time at the ice rink (Janesville Ice Arena). There’s a big value in that kind of unstructured play where you can just go out to the pond, mess around and try stuff.”
The weather hasn’t helped. Ice the volunteers made by spraying water has melted on the field south of the Traxler Park lagoon.
Another challenge is that much of the water has leaked through a manhole cover on the field before it can freeze. The manhole cover is part of a system the city once installed so it would be easier to make the ice rink, but it never worked as intended.
There’s a rubber mat over the manhole cover right now, and Chady plans to add sandbags to plug the leak.
City parks division workers used to create and maintain the ice rink. But city officials cut it from the 2017 budget to save money, Parks Director Cullen Slapak said.
The rink hadn’t been open for several years prior to it being slashed because the winter weather was too warm, he said.
“It was more of, where do we see the best use of our staff time?” Slapak said, referring to the decision to cut the ice rink. “Is it trying to make ice in non-ice-making conditions, having it for a few days and melting away, or do we put our efforts elsewhere and try to make good accomplishments?”
Chady said the city hasn’t been a barrier to the volunteer effort, but he said it isn’t “stepping up to make anything happen.”
Slapak said the city has done everything the volunteers have asked. They are using a Janesville water connection and some city equipment to spray the field.
Janesville officials would consider reviving outdoor ice rink maintenance if there was enough public interest and if the city council made it a priority, Slapak said.
Chady said many cars have driven by the park to check on progress or ask what’s happening. He believes the interest is there.
He also cited a local history book called “Reflections from a Warming House Window” by Virginia E. Leffler, which talks about Janesville having several outdoor rinks at its parks. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, up to 1,000 people could be found skating at Traxler Park’s ice rink, the book says.
Chady laments that all of the other rinks have been eliminated.
“You compare us to any other city—Milton does an outdoor rink, Fort Atkinson, Jefferson—communities all around us all have them,” he said. “And yet Janesville, the size of it, the fact that we’ve got a pretty vibrant hockey community with the Janesville Jets and the high school teams and youth hockey, and yet we don’t have a single outdoor option for the city of parks.”