On of my favorite childhood memories was going to an outdoor ice skating rink behind a warehouse in South Glens Falls in Warren County. It was only a field with a large frozen puddle but to me it was amazing. Years later now in my role as manager at Moreau Lake State Park, I wanted to give people near my park the same opportunity.
I started researching ice rinks and how to make them safe but also affordable for the park. While we do have the lake to work with, lake and pond ice usually is bumpy and cracked, thus making stumbles and falls more likely. As I continued researching online, an image of a homemade Zamboni apparatus popped up. Major ice rinks use large Zamboni machines to lay down smooth coats of ice on indoor rinks, but that kind of heavy machinery was not in my budget, so the hand-made model I saw looked like the way to go!
Using a steady flow of warm water to apply a continuous smooth ice surface just like the big machines, a small, human-powered Zamboni was my solution to make lake ice smooth and safe for skaters.
Our two homemade units were created by Aaron Aiken, a staffer at Moreau, who fabricated them after seeing the online photo. It was amazing. Aaron simply gathered all the materials he needed and finished in a day. We had most of the parts needed on hand at the park so there was little to no cost to us.
Aaron assembled a 55-gallon poly tank (used to hold the warm water), a 10-foot piece of 2-inch PVC pipe, a 2-inch PVC valve, a 4-foot piece of felt or wool (for trailing the water and flattening it out as smooth ice) and a sturdy wheeled cart. With that and a bit of ingenuity _ presto, a human powered Zamboni machine!
Zambonis work by slowly drizzling out warm water over the surface of existing ice. The warm water melts all the high spots and fills in all the lows before freezing to create a perfectly smooth surface perfect for skating. The operator judges how fast they want water to come out by adjusting the flow with the valve.
At Moreau, our crew pulls a Zamboni around the rink three times before it runs out of water, and then the other Zamboni takes its place. It is important to have two setups because ridges can form in the ice if you stop putting down warm water even for an instant. To create a smooth rink, it took about 110 gallons of water, applied by two Zambonis over six laps, for a total of about an hour of work.
Another service that Moreau Lake State Park provides to visitors is the Daily Ice Report. Parks staffers measure the thickness of the ice starting a day after rink ice is laid on, meaning when the ice totally covers the surface of the lake, we wait a day and then start the ice thickness report. Two staff members start at shore with an ice auger and drill through the ice and measure the thickness. If it is under 3 inches they stop at that hole. If it is over 4 inches, they move out 20 feet and drill another hole. They follow the same procedures until it is determined that the average thickness (average readings taken from multiple places on the lake) is at least 6 inches.
When that happens, the lake is opened to skaters, pedestrians and ice fishermen. These ice reports are published over social media every day at 8:00 a.m. until the ice is safe and then these reports are replaced by the open one.
All this comes together to make the lake a safe and enjoyable place to recreate in the winter. At our rink, located just off the beach, a campfire is usually going nearby so skaters can warm themselves. So grab your skates (or borrow ours) and give us a visit!
Cover shot – Moreau staffer Jay Hauser (foreground) pulls a homemade Zamboni around the skating rink at Moreau Lake State Park, as fellow staffer Donna Fortner comes along behind with the second Zamboni . All images NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.
Post by Al LaFountain, Park Manager, Moreau Lake State Park and Grant Cottage State Historic Site
More about Moreau Lake State Park
Covering some 6,250 acres in Saratoga County, Moreau Lake State Park features hardwood forests, pine stands, and rocky ridges. More than 30 miles of hiking trails are available, and can be used for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter. Snowshoe rentals are available.
Last year, Governor Kathy Hochul announced an 860-acre expansion of this park to include spectacular natural habitat along an undeveloped stretch of the Hudson River that will be known as Big Bend Point. This acquisition makes Moreau Lake State Park one of the ten largest parks in the state park system.
Learn about a Gilded Age ice skater who helped promote figure skating for women from this previous blog post by the curator at Staatsburgh State Historic Site.
Staatsburgh State Historic Site, formerly the Gilded Age estate of the very wealthy and socially-prominent Ruth Livingston Mills and her husband, financier and philanthropist Ogden Mills, sits along the eastern bank of the Hudson River in the mid-Hudson Valley. Commanding a view of the river and the Catskill Mountains, the estate’s Beaux-Arts mansion was once…
“Skating is in my heart, not my head.” – Olympic Medalist Michelle Kwan