Steamboat Springs It took local volunteers about two weeks of nightly ice-making sessions earlier this month to get the Oak Creek Ice Rink ready for hockey practice and open skate this season.
A mix of volunteers, from hockey parents to unaffiliated community members, still do everything from ice-making, to repairing the boards and the glass, to mending the sunshades that keep the ice from melting, to driving and maintaining the Oak Creek Ice Rink's Zamboni.
"It's everything from picking up trash and cleaning the bathrooms, to keeping the skates organized," rink manager Tami Thurston said.
Last year, Oak Creek Hockey Association President Dina Murray was out at the rink every morning before she went to work to unlock the warming hut and turn on the lights, Janet Fischer said. In addition to being a hockey mom, Fischer's husband coaches and helps with ice-making and maintenance.
"Every time I go down to the rink, there's other community members down there just helping out," Thurston said. "It's noteworthy that there's four or five people on our hockey board who don't even have kids in the program."
Making ice each season at the outdoor rink is something of an ordeal - the surface needs repeated flooding-and-shoveling sessions and consistent temperatures to keep it frozen. "It's a lot of time and work," Fischer said. "This year, there was a handful of guys who have 40 hours each of pouring, checking the temperatures, checking the weather, stopping by after work and seeing if it's frozen, if it's watery, if it's crunching, if there's wet spots."
But the process has gotten easier throughout the years thanks to rink improvements. Tim Corrigan, a former hockey parent and former board president of the Oak Creek Hockey Association, remembers when ice-making used to take a month.
Before the ice rink had a roof or a concrete foundation, the high points on the lumpy ground underneath the ice were a foot and a half high, Corrigan said.
"We needed 2 feet of ice before you could skate on it," he said.
The Oak Creek Ice Rink's roof, which was installed at the town-owned facility in 2005, also has made it easier to keep the ice good for skating.
"Before we had the roof, the hours that were spent using a walk-behind snow blower to clear the ice were unbelievable," Corrigan said. "It would take one guy four or five hours to clear the ice after every storm."
Although Corrigan's children outgrew hockey years ago, he was one of the many who helped make the ice this month and paint the lines for the rink.
"It's a dedication not only to the kids who want to play hockey, but for the community," Thurston said.
The rink itself began as a grassroots effort from a group of local dads in the late 1980s, including Tom Spicer, Craig Haverly, Bob Dresden, Bob Hageman and Larry Bereznak, Corrigan said.
"Most were originally from the Chicago area," Corrigan said. "They were just guys who lived in Oak Creek and their kids got to be that age, and somebody said 'Gosh, we need a hockey rink."
The town owned the land where the ice rink now sits, and the men got permission to take a fire hose and flood the vacant lot across from the railroad tracks on the west side of Oak Creek. The site was formerly owned by the White City Coal Mine, and the shed used to house the rink's Zamboni was the mine's old load-out building, Corrigan said.
"They just shoveled it off and started skating," Corrigan said.
Within a few years, Oak Creek had become one of the four founding members of the Rocky Mountain Youth Hockey League, and a more formal rink had been established - parents drove wooden posts into the ground and nailed up plywood, creating the origins of the current rink.
Throughout the years, through the combined efforts of volunteers, donations and grant funds, the Oak Creek Ice Rink got a warming hut, real boards and glass from a rink in Salt Lake City, a cement foundation to lay the ice on and the roof.
"As a small community, we're very fortunate to have a facility," Thurston said. "Free community ice rinks are a dying breed."