May 22, 2018

Cold weather helps Williston skating rink open early

Scott Bushweller unravels the hose to fill the Williston community ice rink last week. The rink, located in the Williston Community Park behind Williston Central School, is now open to skaters. (Observer photo by Matt Sutkoski)

Scott Bushweller unravels the hose to fill the Williston community ice rink last week. The rink, located in the Williston Community Park behind Williston Central School, is now open to skaters. (Observer photo by Matt Sutkoski)

Volunteers needed for ice rink, skates

By Matt Sutkoski

Observer correspondent

It’s safe to say Scott Bushweller is among the very few Vermonters who goes out this time of year, aiming a water hose outside in subzero cold to make something grow.

In this case, it’s not gardening Bushweller is after. He’s trying to grow the ice on the skate park in back of Williston Central School to turn it into a skating rink, in the hopes of growing plenty of smiles among kids wanting to glide on the ice, or play a little hockey.

Unlike most recent Decembers in Vermont, this one has been cold, which has people begging for some ice time. The only problem is it was almost too cold to make ice in the first place.

Last Thursday, after some of the first near-zero temperatures of the season, Bushweller attached a hose to a hydrant at the skate park to make ice. He tried to turn the valve to turn on the water. Nothing. It seemed to be frozen solid. No water from the hose, no fresh ice for the skating rink. It looked like the skating season wouldn’t get off to a fast start after all.

So, not long after donning layer upon layer of clothes, trudging out to the rink, unfurling the hose for some ice manufacturing, Bushweller reluctantly called it a day.

But it was just a momentary setback. Bushweller said the Williston Public Works department came to the rescue the next day and repaired a faulty valve. Since then, Bushweller has been flooding the rink and watching it freeze for winter skating.

So why does Bushweller spend so many frigid hours in the dark after work, standing there with a hose, flooding the patch of pavement behind the Williston Central School to create the annual skating rink?

“The kids just love it,” Bushweller said.

Skating and hockey are in a lot of Vermonters’ DNA. As Bushweller struggled with the frozen water supply last Thursday, people at a house in an adjacent neighborhood were creating their own backyard hockey rink. Bushweller played hockey as a kid. His two daughters are in the Chittenden South Burlington Youth Hockey program now.

And as Bushweller notes, almost everyone just likes to take a spin on skates, just for the sake of getting outside to enjoy winter. “My wife is learning how to skate,” he said.

Just to keep some control and responsibility over the hydrant that feeds Bushweller’s hose, only Bushweller is allowed to flood the rink. But he’s looking for help, and needs plenty of it.

He’s looking for volunteers who could help clear snow from the rink after a snowfall. He also needs people to repair nicks and holes in the ice that inevitably pop up after a day of heavy use.

That job is easy, he said, akin to repairing potholes in a street, but without all the smelly asphalt. You just pack snow into the hole in the ice, sprinkle it with water, maybe from a plastic bottle, smooth over the slush, then wait for it to freeze. The next day, the hole is gone and the ice surface is as good as new, Bushweller said.

The skating rink volunteer gig has turned Bushweller into something of a winter freeze meteorology expert. He doesn’t like to go out and make new ice if snow is the forecast. You end up with a crusty mess instead of smooth ice, he says. Temperatures barely below freezing don’t work, either. It takes too long for the ice to harden. A clear, cold, calm night is best, he said.

A rainstorm isn’t necessarily the end of the world, either. As long as it doesn’t snow before things re-freeze, rain just adds more water, which turns into smooth ice if it gets cold enough after the downpours end.

At Williston Central School, Athletic Director Jennifer Oakes said the students appreciate the skating rink, though she’s also looking for volunteers. The school has about 50 pairs of skates students use, but the blades on many of the skates are dull. People have been trying to sharpen them, but Oakes said she’d more than welcome offers of help. Would-be volunteers can call 871-6194.

By Tuesday, the rink was ready. Subzero weather helped get the rink off to a somewhat earlier than usual start this year, Bushweller said.

The lights were turned on Monday night, allowing skaters to enjoy the rink until about 9 p.m., Bushweller said. About half the rink was still snow covered from the storm Sunday. It was too cold to shovel it Monday night, he said. The unfinished shoveling job highlights the need for volunteers to help him maintain the rink, Bushweller said.

Anyone who wants to help maintain the rink can call him at 802-922-4642, Bushweller said.

Meanwhile, forecasts of more wintry weather mean skaters in Williston can strap on their blades and test Bushweller’s handiwork.

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