Rockford’s best-kept winter secret revealed

by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL

Answering an often-asked community request for an outdoors winter ice-skating rink, the Rockford Lions have again stepped to the plate. Squire readers will recall that in past years the City of Rockford flooded an area behind the Community Cabin, providing a place for children of all ages to ice-skate during the winter months. That practice was abandoned several years ago, because it became prohibitively expensive to maintain and, oftentimes yearly, replace the rink’s liner. The liner that was placed on the ground and banked by snow was necessary to prevent water absorption into the ground while flooding.

As the sun sets in the west, (pictured l–r) twin brothers Ben and Alex Norkey, 12, Bridgette Davis, 12, Grace Garner, 12, and Lexi Loop 12, all North Rockford Middle School students, are having a blast. They have been skating on the pond regularly since its early freeze-up and especially appreciate the smooth Zamboni-like surface.

As the sun sets in the west, (pictured l–r) twin brothers Ben and Alex Norkey, 12, Bridgette Davis, 12, Grace Garner, 12, and Lexi Loop 12, all North Rockford Middle School students, are having a blast. They have been skating on the pond regularly since its early freeze-up and especially appreciate the smooth Zamboni-like surface.

Old timers in the community fondly remember days of yore when the frozen Rum Creek Mill Pond served as the neighborhood skating rink. Every winter it became a popular recreational gathering spot for hundreds of Rockford families. In ensuing years, the banks of the pond became inaccessible, being ringed by overgrown underbrush and fallen and dead trees. Also, in certain years of drought, the pond did not contain enough water to support a decent skating surface. Eventually the pond was abandoned as a skating rink and relegated to the history of the “good ol’ days.”

            Enter the Rockford Lions, who embrace the club’s common dedication to unselfish service without regard to recognition.

            Rockford Lion Bob Winegar well remembers the good times that were had on the Mill Pond skating pond and posed the question to the club, “Why can’t we recreate the skating rink on a bigger and grander scale than ever before?” Indeed, they have done just that.

            In the fall of 2009, Winegar and his good friend Bernie Armstrong, in particular, along with other Lions, spent countless hours clearing the banks and removing the fallen trees, resulting in a skating surface of approximately one acre. It was available for limited use after Christmas of last year and is somewhat the best-kept secret in town.

            This winter season, it gets even better. The City of Rockford Public Service Department has provided the use of a gasoline-powered pump to draw water from the adjacent Rum Creek to resurface the pond as needed, resulting in a skating surface, as Winegar says, “As smooth as a baby’s behind.” When your reporters visited the site Wednesday afternoon, we found a goodly number of neighborhood youngsters enjoying healthy physical activity in the crisp fresh air.

            Winegar pointed to a huge outdoor floodlight mounted to a trimmed straight tree. An unnamed “good Samaritan” will provide the labor for connection of the floodlight to an electrical source. It is anticipated that the floodlight will adequately illuminate the entire pond’s surface and its shoreline, making it a safe evening environment.

            The floodlight itself was donated courtesy of Rockford Public Schools, who in the very near future are also going to provide one of the buildings at the rear of the adjacent soccer field as a warming shed for pond users.

            The evening hours of the illuminated pond and the warming shed are yet to be determined. Still remaining to be answered is who will provide evening supervision of the pond and the warming shed. The Rockford Lions will use shovels and snowblowers to remove snow accumulation when necessary. Stay tuned for further announcements.

            Meantime, especially during the winter Christmas break, bring your skates and hockey sticks and take advantage of this great outdoor winter venue. Even if you don’t skate, come and check it out. For the uninitiated, the pond is located alongside the Rum Creek Nature Trail, which begins at the Community Cabin on Monroe Street at the west end. The pond can also be accessed by entering the east end of the trail (boardwalk) by the entrance located across from NAPA Auto Parts on Northland Drive.

            Next time you see a “Lion,” give him or her a big hug!

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