Parks update // Warm December makes for messy start to winter recreation

The day after Christmas made for an interesting site on Lake of the Isles: Joggers, wearing shorts and T-shirts, running on trails just feet from where fishermen were drilling holes and setting tip-ups.

December 2011 went down as one of the warmest in Minneapolis history, capped off by a record high of 52 degrees on Dec. 26.

The weather has made for a sloppy start to winter recreation, as skaters, skiers and fishermen have eagerly awaited snow and cold. Some have not been so patient.

Only five of 22 outdoor Minneapolis ice skating rinks were open at the end of the month, as Park and Recreation Board crews saw their sheets of ice melt away into nothing.

On Dec. 28, a man ice fishing on Cedar Lake broke through the ice but with help from other fishermen and ice skaters, was able to pull himself out of the water, avoiding harm, said Park Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers.

On the same day, the Park Board sent out a warning telling people to stay off all Minneapolis lakes except for the Lake of the Isles ice skating rink, where shallow water and thick ice allowed for skating.

The next day, Dec. 29, a man skating on Lake of the Isles went outside of the normal rink and all the way to the southwest corner of the lake, where he broke through the ice about seven feet from shore, Sommers said. He was able to safely pull himself out of the water.

In response to the incidents, Park Board crews on Dec. 30 began setting up barricades and warning signs at entry points into Minneapolis lakes, said Lisa Beck, director of ice operations. Because of a lack of snow, park users had more entry points to the lake than in a typical year.

Two portable ice shacks could be seen on Lake Calhoun Dec. 30, even though large spaces of open water remained on the north side of the lake.  

As of early January, the Park Board had not yet opened the snowboarding and tubing hill at Wirth Park, but it had opened the manmade cross country ski trails by early December.

The Park Board aims to have the tubing hill open by the time school gets out, said Tim Kuebelbeck. That was Dec. 23 this year, a week later than usual.

Both Kuebelbeck and Beck have adjusted staffing to have snowmakers and ice rink workers come in overnight, when temperatures are cold enough to flood rinks and make snow.

In a strange turn of events, the Park Board opened several golf courses in late December and early January because of the warm weather and lack of snow.

The first week of broomball leagues were cancelled in late December, as precious few rinks were open. Youth hockey leagues, who usually begin practicing in early December, were waiting it out or contemplating buying indoor ice time, Beck said.

City of Lakes Loppet Director John Munger said the annual events has never been cancelled but in 2005 Sunday races were converted to ski party after a strong of 50 degree days.

Munger said 3 or 4 inches of snow is usually needed to hold races, but that can vary depending on the texture of the snow.

This year’s Loppet will be held Feb. 4 and 5.

For more information:

Click here to see the status of ice rinks in Minneapolis

Click here for the condition of cross country ski trails, visit

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