In 2015, Winona Park Maintenance Supervisor Larry Tulius flooded the ice skating rink at Lake Lodge. Last winter, dewatering for Winona State University tunnels prevented ice skating at the lodge, but city staff say there will be skating this season.
by CHRIS ROGERS
City of Winona officials say there will be ice skating at Lake Lodge in 2018, and they expect to open the lodge for skating soon. Winona State University’s (WSU) tunnels are complete, and thick ice is forming on Lake Winona.
Last winter, dewatering for the construction of WSU’s pedestrian railroad underpass tunnels shunted large quantities of groundwater to an outlet at Lake Winona near Lake Lodge, and the relatively warm groundwater prevented a swath of the lake from freezing. The city tried to solve the problem by plugging the storm sewer with a giant balloon, but when that failed, city officials were forced to cancel the ice skating season at Lake Lodge and the annual jump-in-the-frozen-lake-for-fun event, the Goose Bump Jump. During construction, WSU contractors had problems creating a watertight seal around the tunnels, and last winter, it was not clear when that would be fixed and how long dewatering would be necessary. When the issue first came to their attention, city officials said it was an open question as to whether the lack of ice would be a one-time problem or a recurring issue affecting future skating seasons. By mid-January 2017, WSU and city officials said the problem would be fixed and it should not affect Lake Winona in 2018.
Now, the tunnels have been completed and opened, and while they still drain a small amount of storm water into the storm sewer and out to Lake Winona, city officials said it is negligible compared to the massive amount of dewatering during tunnel construction that prevented part of Lake Winona from freezing.
This winter, Lake Winona is freezing just fine. Winona Assistant Recreation Director Patrick Menton said that, as of last Friday, the ice at Lake Lodge was seven inches thick. Menton said that once the ice there is thick enough to support a truck — 12 inches thick, he said — city crews will plow snow to form ice skating rinks on the lake and allow ice skating at the lodge. He was hopeful that would coincide with the opening of the lodge itself on Monday, January 2. Even if the ice rinks are not set up right away on Monday, Winonans and visitors may still rent snowshoes, play pingpong, and sip hot cocoa at the lodge.
“We need a little bit more to drive a vehicle on it,” Menton said. “I’d be surprised if we weren’t able to open with skating there [on January 2] because it’s freezing up very quickly, but safety is [our] first [priority],” he stated.
There are other places to go skating. The city has formed all of its land skating rinks, located at the Bob Welch Aquatic Center, Tillman Park, Knopp Valley Park, and Valley Oaks Park. The city-owned Bud King Ice Arena also offers some public skating and public hockey open hours, though it is mainly used by the Winona Area Youth Hockey Association. In the month of the January, the hockey association has scheduled a total of five-and-a-half hours of public skate time at Bud King, plus two-and-a-half hours of public hockey time.
Bud King Ice Arena charges for public skating at both the indoor ice arena and the outdoor rink. It costs $3 per visit or $30 for a season pass, according to Menton. Ice skates are available for rent for $1, he said. Charging for the outdoor rink is new. Before a reconstruction project in 2016, the outdoor rink was generally free and open to use, Menton said. In 2017, the city waived fees for the outdoor rink because of the lack of skating at Lake Lodge. However, after the city invested $1.4 million in replacing the refrigeration system and upgrading both the indoor and outdoor rinks, the Bud King Ice Arena is charging for use of the outdoor rink this year.
City: no more Goose Bump Jump
Will the Goose Bump Jump return this year, as well? “We’re not doing the jump anymore,” Menton responded. The polar plunge has long been a part of the city’s Winter Carnival, but Menton said it will not be part of this year’s festivities, which will be held on February 9-11, 2018 — the same weekend as the Frozen River Film Festival.
Menton stated that fewer and fewer people had been participating in the Goose Bump Jump. He explained that last time the city held the jump, in 2016, only about a dozen people did it, and it does take city staff time to organize and host. Winona County Sheriff’s Office Dive and Rescue Team members usually volunteered, too, to help jumpers get in and out of the water.
“We’re moving away from the actual plunge into the lake, just looking at the numbers trending over the years,” Menton said. “We’re going to focus more on outdoor recreation activities that you can do without having to jump in a frozen lake,” he added. That includes the Snowshoe Snowdown snowshoe race and the Snow Bomb fat bike race at Holzinger Trails.