Fort Wayne Parks department wants no part of ice skating on Lakeside Park pond

The Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department doesn't want to be responsible for ice skating on the Lakeside Park pond. City officials are studying whether a neighborhood group can assume responsibility - and liability - if it wants to offer skating on the pond. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)

The Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department doesn't want to be responsible for ice skating on the Lakeside Park pond. City officials are studying whether a neighborhood group can assume responsibility - and liability - if it wants to offer skating on the pond. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)

A neighborhood group lobbying for ice skating on the main pond at Lakeside Park would have to assume all responsibility and liability for the skating under an idea being studied by the city of Fort Wayne.

Molly Papier, a leader of the local Friends of Lakeside Park Pond Skating (FLPPS) group, met with Mayor Tom Henry during his Mayor’s Night In event Monday.

“Skating at Lakeside may be possible if the Fort Wayne Parks (and Recreation Department) has no involvement whatsoever,” Papier reported in a Facebook post about the meeting. “This means ice grooming and communications are run through our FLPPS group.

“The mayor’s legal team is exploring the idea of a community group running skating in a public park and the liability associated with that concept,” she said in the post, which she sent to News-Sentinel.com after we asked her for an update on FLPPS’ proposal to bring back pond skating.

“I will be checking back in with the mayor in the next week,” Papier said. With winter well underway, the FLPPS would like to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, she added.

The FLPPS includes residents who live near Lakeside Park and who remember being able to skate on park’s main pond during the winter.

The parks department had tested and maintained the ice on the Lakeside Park pond for ice skating for years, but it stopped that work about three years ago. The parks department instead has set up a temporary ice rink each winter on the park’s basketball court.

The parks department is concerned about liability risks at park ponds throughout the year, but even more so during winter, said Natalie Eggeman, parks department public information officer.

“We do not allow public swimming or boating ever on Lakeside Pond,” Eggeman said in an email response to a question from News-Sentinel.com. “If someone stands on the bank of the pond during warmer months and they fall into the water, they won’t be under the ice.

“Additionally, the reasons why we are so much more concerned with the dangers of our ponds in the winter is because it’s not always clear that the pond isn’t safe,” she said. “The ice can look thick enough to walk on, but snow underneath the ice may make some areas weaker. If someone falls through the ice, they may not surface in the same spot — the ice will be covering that area — and they could drown.

“Also, it only takes seconds for someone to succumb to hypothermia when the water temperatures are low,” she said.

During a meeting with the Fort Wayne Parks department’s board of park commissioners in December, Papier and the FLPPS proposed:

• Open the pond to skating this Friday through Jan. 21, which historically are among the coldest weeks of the winter.

• Parks department staff would check the pond ice during that time period to ensure it is safe for skating.

• During the two-week pond skating period, signs would be posted saying people who ice skate on the pond are doing so at their own risk.

• Volunteers from Friends of Lakeside Park Pond Skating would be onsite after school and in the evenings to ask skaters to sign a waiver absolving the parks department from liability for any injury.

• The volunteers also would shovel snow off the ice and monitor people’s behavior on the ice to prevent injuries.

The parks department wants a “total split between our group and the park if we do skating, which isn’t what we really wanted,” Papier said in her post.

FLPPS members hoped the parks department would be involved and open the pavilion beside the pond as a warming shelter.

“Without the use of the facilities, it’ll be less family-friendly (eg: it’s nice to have a

bathroom),” she said.

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