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Hart Park to offer open-air ice rink

Skaters just have to wait for weather to play along

Dec. 21, 2011

An outdoor ice rink could open at Hart Park in a matter of weeks - if Mother Nature cooperates, that is.

The Parks and Forestry Board OK'd the creation of the rink, 4-1, Tuesday, saying this winter will be a trial to see if such an effort is worth making in the future.

But would-be skaters will have to wait for a solid ground freeze followed by a light snowfall before an outdoor rink can be built, parks superintendent Ken Walbrant said.

Once conditions are right, the picnic area in Hart Park just east of 72nd Street will be iced over. There's plenty of level ground and nearby parking.

"We actually do have a pretty convenient spot," Walbrant said, adding that there are parking two fire hydrants in the area that can provide water for the rink.

Once the temperatures drop, parks staff will have to work overnight - likely for three nights - creating at least a four-inch ice base.

With his department already short-staffed and the ice rink not in the budget, resources for the amenity likely will be pulled from tree-pruning budget. It will be difficult to find volunteers to work in single-digit or colder temperatures at night, so the ice rink work will require overtime pay, Walbrant said.

Building up the ice is not easy, but Walbrant said he would try to make the rink as large as possible - hopefully giving skaters more room to maneuver than they have when the Muellner Building's curling rink is offered for skating.

Board member Steve Berg opposed spending money on an outdoor rink when skating is already offered sporadically inside the Muellner building and at the nearby Jacobus Park pond, which also has a warming shelter on site.

"Why do we need to reinvent it and take away from this," he said, indicating the Muellner Building, where the meeting was held. "This is well-used, but it's not overused."

Indoor skating ends in early January, Walbrant said, but demand continues throughout winter. Besides, after a two-to-three hour indoor skate session, it's difficult to get the kids off the ice because they're enjoying it so much. With free admission and longer hours at the outdoor rink, people will take advantage of skating from morning until night.

Board President Tom Ertel had a simpler answer to Berg's concerns.

"Because we want this to be a destination park; this is one more piece of the puzzle," he said, adding that Jacobus is a Milwaukee County Park whereas Hart Park belongs to the city.

At a glance

WHAT: While the Parks and Forestry Department waits for the right weather to create an outdoor ice rink at Hart Park, open skate sessions will be offered indoors on the curling ice.

WHEN:1 to 3 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 26 through 30; 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 31, Jan. 1 and Jan. 8

WHERE: Muellner Building, 7300 Chestnut St.

COST: All Wauwatosa residents skate free Dec. 26 through 30. On other days, Wauwatosa children are admitted free, adults pay $2.

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