Throughout Minnesota, record high temperatures have taken their toll on outdoor rinks so far this year. A favorite pasttime of young and old Minnesotans is to hit the local outdoor rink for one of the most unique sports experiences there is.
But let's face it, the temps are getting cold, and will get colder. And the upcoming winters are sure to be more outdoor hockey conducive than this one has been. You'll get your outdoor skating in, but if you live in Duluth, Minnesota, you might be in danger of losing one of the premier outdoor facilities in Northern Minnesota, and a community gathering spot.
The Congdon Park rinks on the campus of Congdon Park Elementary in the heart of Duluth is in peril, and a group of local families are fighting to save it. The complex features two hockey rinks, a large pleasure skating rink and two-level warming house are facing a Duluth School Board vote on Tuesday that could demolish the rinks in favor of a parking lot. The changes come as the elementary school is set to undergo renovation that will remove the current parking lot.
It would certainly be a blow to a city that thrives on its ability to attract people who love connecting with the outdoors, and enjoy unique jewels that Congdon and other outdoor rinks provide.
Several options have been thrown out, but the latest doesn't allow for a plan to include a viable option to maintain the hockey association's ability to run a successful program.
If you picture a Terrence Fogerty outdoor hockey scene, Congdon Park comes pretty close. Under the shadows of the large school on one end and towering pine trees on the other, the rinks are lit up at night like a stage. Right next to the big rink is a playground and hill where younger brothers and sisters play or sled while their older siblings skate,
The rinks have been in operation since 1934, and a group of local parents are fighting for a compromise that would keep the rinks in operation.
Phil Vallie grew up playing for the Congdon Park youth association, and now his kids are part of it. The Vallie's live just blocks away from the rinks, and would be losing their family gathering spot.
"If you look down at those rinks on a weeknight, or any time on a weekend, they are full. It's kids, it's adults," said Vallie. "And they're all playing together or chasing each other around the pleasure rink. There's a culture down there that if you have skates and a stick, you can play, and it's almost like a huge family. It would be a shame for that all to be destroyed."
Congdon parents are looking for help from around the state to help save the rinks. There is an online petition that is collecting signatures
. The goal is to reach over 1,000 signatures, and the total as of Friday morning is over 600.
"The hockey community is a tight one," said Phil's wife, Sara who is the founder of the "Save the Rinks" organization. "I'm sure many parents would hate to lose their local rink because it is such a great way for kids to get exercise in the winter months. There really isn't another spot like this in our area of Duluth."
"Save the Rinks" is looking for help from the hockey community as they try to work with the Duluth School Board in a way that works for both sides.
"We want to get the word out there, and we hope that something can be done," said Sara Vallie. "We realize change is coming, but we want to make sure our kids have a skating rink to call their home away from home."
As Hockey Day Minnesota approaches, the Vallie's are hoping people think about those outdoor games that are valued so much in Minnesota, and support the "Save the Rinks" drive.