Tag Archives: ice skating

Human Zamboni Machines of Moreau Lake State Park

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!

Moreau staffers Donna Fortner (left), and Jay Hauser, load up the Zambonis with warm water before going to lay down ice on the rink.

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.

Measuring 250 feet by 100 feet, the outdoor skating rink at Moreau Lake State Park welcomes skaters! The Park has free loaner skates.

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.


Resources


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.

Gilded Age Ice Skater Carved Early Path

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 … Continue reading Gilded Age Ice Skater Carved Early Path

A hand-operated Zamboni machine is on display at the Original Hockey Hall of Fame in Museum, in Kingston, Ontario, where it is also described as a “hand flooder.” (Photo credit – Wikipedia Commons)

“Skating is in my heart, not my head.” – Olympic Medalist Michelle Kwan

Gilded Age Ice Skater Carved Early Path

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 the scene of elegant house parties each autumn weekend for the glitterati of American society. The home is still filled with the original furnishings, art and décor chosen by Ruth and Ogden Mills after its redesign by prominent architect, Stanford White, circa 1895, from a 25-room home built by Ruth’s great-grandfather into the 79-room house we see today. 

Touring the home, one is struck by its opulence but also by its regal formality: Ruth’s bedroom, with its hand-carved bed on a platform, surmounted by a lavish baldachin (a kind of ceremonial canopy), and surrounded by walls of raspberry silk brocade, seems well-suited for a queen of society. 

Ruth Mills’ bedroom at the Staatsburgh Mansion.
A formal portrait of Ruth Livingston Mills painted in 1909 by artist François Flameng. Learn more about this portrait in this January 2018 post in the NYS Parks Blog.

Among her peers, Ruth was known for her acumen as a hostess, her exclusivity (reportedly opining that there were only 20 wealthy families in New York worth knowing), and her imperious poise.  As one of her contemporaries said:

“[Ruth Mills] would invite [guests] to her house…greet them with a limp hand, languidly extended, and a far-away expression, and then apparently forget their existence.  They were chilled but impressed.”

While it might be difficult to image, this reserved, aloof woman also had an athletic side uncommon for most women of that time. She helped build the popularity of the sport of figure skating as an early prominent practitioner and benefactor. And she also had a hand in the opening of one of the earliest indoor refrigerated ice rinks in North America.

My research into her history revealed some parallels with my own life. I have been a competitive figure skater for more than 20 years, and am a U.S. Figure Skating Gold Medalist after passing tests in four disciplines including freestyle and ice dancing. Now, I coach young skaters at a rink in nearby Saugerties.

For me, like it might have been for Ruth Mills, skating is athletic and artistic, allowing one expression through music and dancing.

Ruth Mills’ skating was widely recognized during her time. An 1893 New York Herald article praised her as an accomplished and graceful ice skater.  According to the newspaper, Ruth started skating with her twin sister Elisabeth when they were girls. That would have been during the 1860s, which was a time when skating was starting to become very popular in the United States. By that time, men and women were skating together on the same ponds (one of the few athletic activities where both genders were involved together), and even the press was supportive of women skating, extolling the health benefits.

Figure skating was the first sport where women participated for the pure joy of it and where their participation with men was widely accepted.  Skating became so popular in the mid-19th century that there was an estimated crowd of 100,000 on the pond in New York City’s Central Park on Christmas Day in 1860.

Newspapers of the day took note of Ruth Mills, with one reporter writing in the 1890s: “Mrs. Ogden Mills is quite too graceful and proficient.  As if by common assent, the others stop a moment to watch her do the double Philadelphia grapevine, about the most difficult gyration on ice known to the expert.” By this point, Ruth Mills would have been about 40 years old.

A portion of an account from the New York Herald on Jan. 6, 1895 on Ruth Mills’ skating technique.

Watchers of skating today might not recognize this move, but the double Philadelphia grapevine was seen as one of the most complex techniques of its time. As described in a contemporary magazine: “The double grapevine is the same as the single, except that a loop is introduced at the beginning and also at the end of the figure. It is executed, as in the single grapevine, by passing the right foot in front of the left foot with the chain step; but instead of making a half revolution, as in the single, the body is swung completely around by the means of two turns on the right foot and an inside loop on the left.”

Maria Reynolds demonstrates the double Philadelphia grapevine skating technique.
Illustration of the double grapevine technique from a skating instruction book of the period.

While newspapers of this time made a habit of fawning praise over wealthy and powerful members of New York society, it is clear that Ruth was an accomplished skater. To the modern skater, the fact that Ruth could maneuver gracefully on ice, in the corset and multiple layers of clothing covering her from neck to foot, which Gilded Age women were required to wear, makes her ability even more impressive.

Given Ruth Mills’ self-composed demeanor, I find it hard to imagine her falling on the ice in front of people. But she must have started skating very early in life and put in much practice to become as skilled and confident as she was. Some of that early practice likely must have been on the rough ice of the frozen Hudson River at Staatsburgh when she was growing up.

We know that the river was a very popular place to skate and we have a photo of the estate superintendent’s family skating in 1916.  The cove area near the estate’s powerhouse was a popular place for local village residents to skate.

Agnes and Bill Blair, children of the caretaker of Staatsburgh State Historic Site, skate on the Hudson River circa 1916.

While Staatsburgh was the primary residence of Ruth and Ogden Mills in the autumn, like many of their social set, the couple traveled with the seasons. New York City was where the elites dwelled in the winter months, as it was the season of the opera, and of lavish balls given in assorted Fifth Avenue mansions.

Whether dancing or ice skating, the elites of New York always preferred to pursue their leisure apart from the common folk, and in 1896, many of the wealthiest families, including Ruth and Ogden Mills, contributed to the construction of one of the earliest indoor ice rinks built in New York City, the St. Nicholas Skating Rink.

Skaters at St. Nicholas Rink in 1901. (Photo Credit- Wikipedia Commons)

When skating depended on a pond or river to freeze, skaters were at the whim of mother nature (sometimes they had only 15 to 20 days a season to skate), but after the creation of indoor ice surfaces, the skating season would extend much longer.

The St. Nicholas Skating Rink also was one of the earliest indoor ice rinks made of mechanically frozen ice in North America. The arena also was the site of the first game between women’s ice hockey teams in the United States, when in 1917 the St. Nicholas team defeated Boston 1–0.

An illustration in a 1900 issue of Harper’s Bazaar magazine shows fashionable women playing ice hockey at the St. Nicholas Skating Rink in New York City. (Photo Credit- Hockeygods.com)

Building this rink was an investment of $300,000 (more than $9 million today) contributed principally by elite patrons like the Mills. Located on West 66th street, the rink was less than four blocks from the couple’s mansion, and contemporary newspapers accounts stated that Ruth Mills skated there nearly every morning.

Shortly after the rink opening, an article in The New York Times noted that Mrs. Mills was to host an “ice tea.”  Not the popular beverage, this exclusive social event included both skating on the rink and tables to consume tea and light refreshments.

An item in the April 5, 1896 edition of the New York Times announcing Ruth Mills’ “ice tea” event at the St. Nicholas Skating Rink.

So here, Ruth Mills got to combine her interests in both luxurious entertaining and skating. Sadly, the St. Nicholas Rink was demolished in the 1980s after a long history of hosting skating and boxing matches.

If you would like to know more about this family, and the Gilded Age lifestyle they led and the mansion in which they lived it, make a trip to Staatsburgh State Historic Site the Taconic Region.

Nearly 200 acres of the historic Mills estate is within the Ogden Mills and Ruth Livingston Mills Memorial State Park, which is open every day, all year, from sunrise to sunset, with no fee for park entry.  It includes the Dinsmore Golf Course, one of America’s oldest golf courses, as well as trails for hiking and cross-country skiing.

Guided tours and special programs are offered at the Mills mansion year-round; for programs information and hours of operation, call (845) 889-8851, or visit our website.

The 79-room Mills Mansion, which is located on the 120-acre Staatsburgh State Historic Site in Dutchess County. (Photo Credit- Andrew Halpern)

Cover Photo: The St. Nicholas Skating Rink in New York City. Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of NYS Parks.

Maria Reynolds, Ph.D., Historic Site Assistant / Curator, Staatsburgh State Historic Site

Reynolds has given lectures at Staatsburgh on “Gilded Age Tea & Talk” program series, presented each winter.  Now in its sixth season, this program series offers guests the chance to enjoy the site’s custom tea blend, created by Harney & Sons, along with scones, clotted cream, tea sandwiches and sweets, served in the mansion’s opulent formal dining room while listening to talks on various aspects of Gilded Age history. 

Skating in New York State Parks: Ice Ice Baby!

As the 2018 Winter Olympics kick off in PyeongChang, South Korea, figure skating, speed skating and hockey will be among the marquee events. Generations of young skaters will be inspired by the aerial feats, athletic prowess and teamwork showcased on the ice, while dreaming of standing on the medal podium proudly representing their country.

For amateur and recreational skaters who want to enjoy some quality ice time with family and friends a little closer to home, select New York State Parks offer a variety of locations and experiences throughout the winter months, including rinks and many frozen ponds. From Riverbank’s roof-top skyline in Manhattan to the oval at historic Bear Mountain to the quiet beauty among the pines in Saratoga, these scenic settings are the perfect backdrop to embrace the weather in the northeast and stay active in the outdoors.

Whether your specialty is a triple lutz, or you skew closer to a full-time klutz (or somewhere in between), ice skating is a fun way to exercise for people of all ages. The New England Baptist Hospital and M. Kathryn Steiner, M.D., the physician for the Skating Academy of Boston, recently noted the many fitness benefits of skating including strength, flexibility and balance.

For ice enthusiasts who prefer a net and some action, pond hockey is more popular than ever before.  Both Chenango Valley and Saratoga Spa State Parks host annual multi-day tournaments that draw visitors from across the U.S.  These, together with parks such as Schodack Island, Grafton Lake, and Glimmerglass, hold winter festivals and regular programs throughout January and February with some offering instruction to help grow new legions of skaters.

Along with inspiration for general winter recreation, the State Parks’ website (parks.ny.gov) offers a full list of State Parks with ice skating.  Many sites offer skate rentals, lessons, special events, warming huts and refreshments.  Call ahead for conditions and hours, and be sure to carve out some ice time for yourself this season!

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Making the Most of the Shortest Days of the Year

Ah, the winter solstice is here, that longest night and shortest day.  The solstice (sols=sun; tice=stand still) occurred at 11:48 EST on Monday, December 21, 2015.  This was the moment when the sun was directly over the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere (see Figure 1).  Once it reached this point, the earth started to slowly tilt northward and the days began to get longer. Because the tilting of the earth’s axis is so slow, the day length is the same (stands still) for a day or two after the winter solstice.

Earth-lighting-winter-solstice_EN
Figure 1. Earth Lighting During The Winter Solstice https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Earth-lighting-winter-solstice_EN.png.

Then we slowly gain a minute or two of daylight each day until summer solstice (longest day) in June (Figure 2).

Earth-lighting-summer-solstice_EN
Figure 2. Earth Lighting During The Summer Solstice https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c8/Earth-lighting-summer-solstice_EN.png.

Winter is a great time to explore New York’s State Parks and Historic Sites.  Some Parks offer opportunities to try snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and, ice fishing.  Bring your own skis, ice fishing gear, snowshoes, snowmobiles, or skates to create your own winter fun in a Park or Historic Site.  Or take a hike go wildlife watching or attend a program.  Just remember to dress for the weather and you’ll have a grand time!

Post by Susan Carver, OPRHP.