PINE ISLAND — Carter Tinnin has been skating since two days after Christmas.
His mom, Cassie Vang, is thrilled to see ice at Trailhead Park every night in Pine Island.
"I just love that it gets the kids away from technology," Vang said, watching her son practice hitting a puck while moving across the ice. "Last week, they did distance learning over there, no P.E."
The city of Pine Island moved its ice rink from behind the school and near the bus garage to the park, where the city ran the operation for a year after the rink was a no-show for the winter of 2018-19. That happened when the Pine Island Public Schools, after operating the rink for decades, said it could no longer operate the rink due to workers compensation claims.
Council member Mike Hildenbrand tried putting together a volunteer team that winter, but it happened too late. They did operate the rink last winter at the old location, but Hildenbrand wanted the city to not only take over the rink but – to help the school district further – host the rink on its own property.
At Trailhead Park, the rink is better lighted, more visible within the community and a huge hit among skaters.
"More people see it, so more people come down," said Brady Poncelet, a senior at Pine Island High School who was playing in a pickup hockey game Tuesday night.
Poncelet, along with a couple of others – ranging in age from 17 to 25 – said they'd been skating since they were pre-teens or even in preschool, and have been playing hockey since the age of about 10 or 11.
When Pine Island did not put up an outdoor rink two years ago, they had to drive to Rochester, Oronoco or Zumbrota to play. Having ice in their hometown, they agreed, was much better.
HIldenbrand said the new site for the rink just made sense. The park is already becoming a focal point for activities in the city. Now – and here, Hildenbrand agrees with the young skaters – people see the rinks driving down Main Street or on Goodhue County Road 11 coming into town.
But none of this would be possible without volunteers who commit to caring for the ice several times a week.
"We have eight volunteers committed to nighttime maintenance," Hildenbrand said. "We schedule maintenance every other night to give them a break."
Usually, two people a night come and scrape the ice with a shovel to get the shavings off. Then they water down the rink to fill in the cracks and chips. All told, a night of maintenance takes about an hour, Hildenbrand said.
Steve Diderrich, who volunteers a few times a week, said he's never done ice maintenance before.
"We scrape it and push it over the side. Some new water keeps it smooth," he said. "It's learn on the job, but I like to help out."
Hildenbrand said he hopes by next year the city will have a budget item for hiring some folks to maintain the rink – rinks, really, since there are two, one set up for hockey and the other for pleasure skaters.
Vang said she's thrilled with the work the city and the volunteers have put into making this recreational opportunity available, especially with kids being extra cooped up this winter.
"He's an outdoor kid," she said, pointing to her son. "With how this is lit up, you can't help but notice it."