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Skating spot at Chester Woods is a hidden gem

Phirum Pheak grooms a section Bear Creek for ice skating and to help people get outside in nature during the winter.

Chester Woods skating.JPG
Lily Gladkowski, right, maneuvers around a snow pile while other children play on an ice skating course Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, on Bear Creek at Olmsted County park Chester Woods.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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CHESTER — Phirum Pheak began to spend more time outside in 2020 like many people did, as the world shut down due to the spread of COVID-19.

A blast of late winter cold had frozen Bear Creek at Olmsted County’s Chester Woods Park.

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“It was just clear and smooth,” Pheak recalled.

Pheak returned with a pair of ice skates and enjoyed an activity he used to love, but had done maybe once in the last decade.

“It’s what a lot of people did during the pandemic,” Pheak said. “We went internal and found what made us happy and we kind of reinvigorated those things.”

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Pheak decided not to keep his happiness internal. In 2021, Pheak returned to the spot and kept it groomed for other ice skaters to enjoy if they found it.

They did.

Chester Woods Park
Phirum Pheak, one of the people who manage the ice rink, on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, at Chester Woods Park in Eyota, Minnesota.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Shannon Gladkowski brought her family out to the ice Sunday for the second time this season. She learned of the spot from her friends, the Bentall family, who enjoyed the spot after discovering it last year.

“It’s fun to be out here, it’s kind of tucked out of the way of the wind,” she said. “People seem to be adding to it.”

Pheak said he chose the spot in part because it is tucked away and surrounded by trees.

“You’re surrounded by nature out there,” Pheak said.

Bentalls enjoyed time on the ice Sunday too. Andrew Bentall set up a warming tent and helped clear some of the ice.

Daniel Bentall, 10, practiced his hockey skills and pulled a sled around the ice giving his friends rides.

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“I like skating because it makes you glide and you feel like a bird, kind of,” Daniel said.

Chester Woods skating Daniel Bentall.JPG
Daniel Bentall, 10, practices hockey on an ice skating course on Bear Creek at Olmsted County park Chester Woods Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

Daniel brought some water from home to spray on a section of ice to smooth it over.

“I hope we can bring some more water later so we can make this more slippery which is a good thing,” he said.

Pheak said maintaining the spot takes about an hour of work unless there’s heavy snow. He returned to the spot on the west side of the creek and swept the snow from the ice Thursday. It took from about 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. to clear the area that day.

Chester Woods skating Camille Gladkowski.JPG
Camille Gladkowski, 5, works on her hockey moves on an ice skating course on Bear Creek at Olmsted County park Chester Woods Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

Knowing other people might use it, even if he never meets them, helped motivate Pheak through the job.

“When you find yourself empathizing with the people who are going to use it, you can push snow a lot longer,” Pheak said.

Chester Woods skating Lily Gladkowski.JPG
Lily Gladkowski calls out for takers on a ride on a sled as she skates on the ice on Bear Creek at Olmsted County park Chester Woods Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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