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Skating plans on ice as weather wreaks havoc with south Washington County outdoor city rinks

Warm weather has meant a winter of poor ice at local outdoor skating rinks. Here, grass peeks through a slushy, melting rink at Highlands Park in Cottage Grove. Bulletin photo by Jon Avise

Warmer-than-normal winter temperatures have benefited the backs of weary snow shovelers - but they've also put the skids on skating at area outdoor rinks.

Cottage Grove's dozen outdoor ice sheets were closed over the weekend after temperatures soared - relatively speaking, at least - into the mid-40s late last week following a brief cold spell that had allowed parks officials to open three of the city's six warming houses.

A frigid start to December allowed Cottage Grove to open its outdoor rinks on schedule, said Zac Dockter, the city's Parks and Recreation Director.

But the lingering warmth that left Christmas brown and had dozens of golfers teeing-off at River Oaks Golf Course on New Year's Eve and earlier this week has wreaked havoc on skating surfaces.

"Things were going well and then, obviously, the weather turned," Dockter said.

In Newport, Public Works Director Bruce Hanson said the city hasn't yet been able to open its two outdoor rinks - at Loveland and Lions parks - this season due to the warmth. City workers have repeatedly flooded the rinks, but frequent warm-ups and cool-downs have taken their toll and made the ice unusable, he said.

"We're a long ways from opening them unless it gets super-cold," Hanson said. "They're definitely a long way from being ready to skate on."

It's the same story in St. Paul Park, where Public Works Supervisor Lee Flandrich said the city may hold off entirely on opening the city's two rinks at Whitbred Park if the winter warm spell continues into mid to late January. With the city's rinks typically closed by the end of February, Flandrich said opening them for the first time of the season a few weeks from now "doesn't seem a real economical thing to do."

"We've got to weigh how much work and time to put into them if they're only going to be open a month and a half," he said.