By Lyndi Toohill
Many visitors are curious to know how the lagoon ice is measured and how to know when it’s safe to skate.
Once the temperatures drop well below freezing for a span of days, NCG staff tests the ice in various places by drilling holes into the ice and measuring the ice depth. If the ice measures four inches or thicker in all of the measured locations, the lagoon is open for skating.
Sometimes there will be locations that will take longer to freeze than others. For example, there is a spring located at the north end of the lagoon where the water coming up from the ground keeps that area slightly warmer than the rest of the lagoon. Another factor that can slow freezing is snow cover. Snow acts as an insulator and keeps the ice surface slightly warmer than the air above the snow, slowing the freeze.
Although outdoor ice will never be as smooth as indoor skating surfaces, we do maintain the surface as needed. For years the lagoon was resurfaced late at night in the coldest possible weather. The staff would spray down the surface with water from large fire hoses, and then wait for the new water to freeze. Staff would repeat this process numerous times throughout the night and early morning hours to create a smooth surface. In early 2016 we purchased an Ice Dragon resurfacer, a propane-heated flat-bottomed sled. As the Ice Dragon is pulled across the surface it melts uneven ice to make a smooth surface. The Ice Dragon can be operated during the daytime by one staff person, drastically saving staff time and effort.
The lagoon is equipped with hockey nets as well as overhead lights, so skaters can enjoy the ice until 10pm. The lagoon “open” status is posted to the Nicholas Conservatory Facebook page, the sign at the side of the conservatory or you can also call 815-987-8858 to inquire about the status of the ice 24/7. We also post updates on the Rockford Park District's Rainout Line.
Whether you enjoy playing a pick-up hockey game, viewing holiday displays, or taking a “mini-vacation” to the tropics in the dark of winter, we hope you and yours enjoy this magical season at the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens.