UPDATED: Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department says no to ice skating on Lakeside Park pond

The Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department has decided it won't allow public ice skating on the pond at Lakeside Park, a parks official announced at the board of park commissioners meeting Thursday at Citizens Square. (News-Sentinel.com file photo)

The Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department won’t allow public ice skating on Lakeside Park’s ponds, officials announced Thursday.

Chuck Reddinger, deputy director of recreation, announced the decision during the board of park commissioners’ meeting at Citizens Square.

The citizens group Friends of Lakeside Park Pond Skating had asked the parks department to allow skating on the park’s main pond. The parks department ended the longtime local tradition about three years ago in favor of installing a temporary ice rink each winter on the park’s basketball court.

At the park board’s December meeting, Friends of Lakeside Park Pond Skating leader Molly Papier asked for the parks department to allow two weeks of pond skating Jan. 12-21. The friends group proposed having parks department staff monitor the safety of the ice, and the group’s volunteers would handle the rest, from asking skaters to sign liability waivers to clearing snow off of the ice and monitoring skaters’ behavior.

Papier also approached Mayor Tom Henry about allowing public skating on the pond. At that time, parks department officials made it clear they wanted no part of public skating on the pond, but Papier said Henry told her the city would look at potential options.

After significant discussion among parks and city officials, parks department staff didn’t feel comfortable with volunteer group assuming some of the safety risk for people skating on the pond, Reddinger told park board members.

Papier said she received a text and memo from Reddinger informing her about the decision.

The memo said there were only 16 days where the ice on the pond was safe for skating from 2008-2014, and that parks department workers and equipment had fallen through the ice even when it looked safe.

The temporary rink, which has been in use since fall 2015 and is filled with 1 to 1 1/2 feet of water, is safer because it is shallow, the memo said. The rink also freezes hard enough for skating more days than the pond.

The parks department doesn’t feel it is realistic to transfer the responsibility for checking ice depth and skating safety to a volunteer group, the memo added.

Friends of Lakeside Park Pond Skating members believe the parks department didn’t open the pond for skating on all of the days it was possible to do so in the past, Papier said in her email reply to the memo.

“We would assert you have park staff checking ice so that they do ‘fall through’ before the public,” she said. “That is their job.

“I’m quite sure that happened over the course of checking ice for the 50 years the parks allowed skating,” she said. “When that happened, the red flag went up (to signal unsafe ice). They did not stop skating altogether.”

She said her group didn’t want to assume liability for skaters, but offered to help improve overall safety.

Papier said the friends group would welcome expansion of the Lakeside Park temporary rink to allow space for hockey and ice skating simultaneously, her response to the memo said. They also hope the parks department will consider allowing outdoor ice skating at Reservoir Park.