Meteorologists tell us this season is three months long (December to February), but, in reality, temperatures often fall in early October and rarely rise before April. Instead of complaining, locals take pride in their ability to “tough it out” like our parents and grandparents before us who, as they often tell us, walked uphill, six miles one way, barefoot in knee-deep snow to school. Whatever. They were probably wearing snow boots, thick jackets, knitted hats, mittens and scarves!
And that positive, can-do attitude is all that’s really needed to turn “long winter blues” into our favorite time of the year. Well, that and a little preparation plus some good snow pants.
Icy Winter Fun
As fall slides into winter, hundreds of Grand Forks children (and adults) wait anxiously forpark crews to start installing all ten local ice sheets. If you’ve never seen an outdoor ice rink constructed, it’s definitely a site worth witnessing.
The manual process is slow and tedious, but the end result is the pure freedom and unfettered joy of gliding effortlessly round and round and round. Starting in late November, before the temperatures really drop, each two-man crew starts work on its assigned rink. The crew installs the outdoor hockey rink boards, makes any repairs to the boards or the surface and then waits for the temperatures to drop. When they do, usually in early December, the crew hooks up fire hoses and begins slowly flooding the frozen ground with thousands of gallons of water. When the first layer of water freezes (just a few inches thick), the crew repeats the flooding/freezing process for seven to 14 days until the water is evenly distributed (it’s naturally leveling) and solid.
Then, the 10 park rinks are opened to the public, though the park crews’ work is far from over. They provide ongoing rink maintenance, which requires a six-days-per-week schedule.
These rinks provide a growing population (over 50,000 residents) with sites where kids (of all ages) can enjoy hockey and skating during the winter months. To encourage use, the Grand Forks Park District hosts a variety of programs, including hockey (ages five and older; adult leagues are particularly popular), figure skating, curling and open skate sessions.
Greenway Ski Days
Encompassing approximately 2,200 acres, the Greenway now provides a natural green space (it hosts several parks, golf courses, a disc golf course, trails, shore bank fishing sites, restored wildlife habitats and a full service campground) that is utilized for year-round recreational activities and a setting for environmental education opportunities.
As part of a plan to help promote the Greenway and winter recreation, we created Greenway Ski Days, a joint effort between city groups and the Grand Forks Park District. The event, held the first weekend in February, kicks off with a Friday night, candlelight, cross-country ski trip along the trails that wind through scenic Lincoln Drive Park. On Saturday, we offer a full day of activities including cross-county skiing, snow shoeing, ice skating, sledding, sleigh rides and more. All activities are free and open to the public. We even try to entice warm-weather fans out for the fun by offering them bowls of hot chili and cups of hot chocolate!
Brandy Chaffee is Communications Specialist for the Grand Forks Park District in Grand Forks, N.D. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A major contributor to winter recreational opportunities in the city of Grand Forks is a spacious landmass, constructed shortly after the flood of 1997, which dramatically altered the landscape of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. As part of an aggressive effort to rebuild the cities and to ensure that the Greater Grand Forks area would be protected against future flooding, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed the construction of a flood protection system, including the Greenway along the Red and Red Lake Rivers.