Warm weather sinks local skating business

Most folks are happily accepting the warmer than normal temps seen across the Midwest over the last few weeks. On Tuesday alone, the thermometer hit 64 degrees in South Bend, that's 25 digits above average.

Heightened meteorological conditions have caused a handful of hiccups in certain cases; a prime example: the Howard Park Ice Rink. Two days after its Nov. 30 season opener, temperatures in the 60s, heavy rainfall and wind closed the popular winter destination.

For the last four days, the 54 year old rink has sat empty, the lodge and rental office closed until further notice. Rink manager Melanie Trowbridge says the shutdown has not only impacted skating regulars, but special events like birthday parties and holiday gatherings.

"Of course it's frustrating because people who are ice skaters are anxious to get out and skate. You get phone calls, people wanting to know if we're open," Trowbridge, a 31-year veteran of the facility said.

Although not record breaking conditions, a slow start to the skating season can hurt annual attendance, which fluctuates between 8,000 and 25,000 visitors a year.

"We’ve got a facility that's here for the public's use and it does get pretty boring and frustrating to just be looking at yourself all day,” Trowbridge added.

According to StormTeam 16’s Mike Hoffman, the waiting game has only begun. His Wednesday night forecast included highs in the 40s and on-and-off rain showers through the weekend. However, even once temperatures drop below the freezing threshold; staffers say it can take 48 to 72 hours for the ice to settle.

While Howard Park is in a predicament, the Mishawaka Street Department is enjoying every moment of the unseasonably warm weather. After all, a stunted winter season allowed workers to make seven full sweeps of the Princess City during its annual leaf collection program.

When that work was done, the focus turned to prepping all 15 snow plows and 13 additional support vehicles, a task employees typically don't complete before the first snowfall.

"When the weather is nice, you can get some more outdoor stuff done, which keeps everything looking better and maintained better. We had a terrific season to get leaves picked-up in the parks and across the city," Mishawaka Street Commissioner Mike Watson said.

On average, Mishawaka purchases 3,000 tons of enhanced road salt, a product it hasn’t had to touch since the city’s last measurable snowfall in March.

"No one complains about the mild weather. We’re just staying busy and anticipating the snow coming. We pray like everyone else for a mild winter, but in the end we take it day by day,” Watson concluded.

If you are planning on skating at Howard Park, it’s suggested you call ahead to ensure the rink is open. For a full list of December hours and the rink’s main phone number, just click on the Big Red Bar.

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