By Emily Votruba
The Friends of Elberta met for the first time on January 15. In just a couple of weeks, they agreed on a mission statement and held an event, the Fire & Ice Skating party on February 9.
The Friends’ mission is to “preserve, promote, and enhance the quality of life in the Village of Elberta.” The new group took particular inspiration from the natural ice rink in Penfold Park made possible by this year’s cold winter. Penfold Park, aka the Marina/MiniPond/Farmers’ Market park, is located at the juncture of M-22, old M-168, and the Betsie Valley Trail.
Bill Soper, Eric Pyne, Emily Votruba, and Bill O’Dwyer began making the rink back in January. They just wanted to skate. After determining that the ice was safe (well over 16 inches throughout) they cleared the pond with a snowblower, shovels, and brooms. Then, with help from Village DPW superintendent Ken Bonney, they flooded the space with a pump and a hose. It’s no Sochi, but conditions are good enough to get a glide on.
“We could challenge Benzonia in pond hockey,” Bill Soper suggested.
Soon other people noticed the rink. As snow accumulated again over subsequent days, others took it upon themselves to pitch in to clear it—and skate.
Friends of Elberta was started by Jen Condon Whiting and Jim Barnes. The group now meets at the Mayfair Tavern on the second and fourth Wednesdays at 7 pm, and they have a Facebook page. Many people contributed to the Fire & Ice party. Jen Whiting brought a grill and hot dogs. Sue Oseland brought cocoa, tea lights and luminaries. Emily Votruba and Eric Pyne made torches to line the path to the rink, and Eric, Bill Soper, Bill O’Dwyer, and Steve Hagen did last-minute pond clearing and parking lot plowing. Bill Soper was the bonfire master. Jeannie Sikes went around to resale places buying up skates to lend out. Cathy Anderson made a great flier to publicize the event. Coach Reznich lit the torches during the party. Thirty dollars in spontaneous donations were collected.
About 100 people total, including a ton of kids, showed up to skate and commune with each other in this unique park space. Stories went around about skating days past: skating to Frankfort across the bay, skating in the then-open water behind where the Village office is now; how, back in the day, kids would cut a hole in the ice near where the car ferries came to port, and when a boat came in, it would cause the water to rise in the rink, and by the time the boat left, there’d be a perfect frozen disk of ice to skate on. Ella Whiting started out thinking she couldn’t skate and, according to her mom, she was Peggy Fleming by the end of the day.
What’s your skating story? If you don’t have one yet, you can make one at Penfold Park. Meanwhile, Friends of Elberta will be coming up with more fun things to do in the Village. Ψ