GLEN ELLYN – With its wide span of glistening ice surrounded by frosted trees, Lake Ellyn in winter looks like something out of a painting.
“It’s breathtaking when you skate on it,” said Doug Herwaldt, who grew up skating on the lake and now owns Paul’s Shoe Service with his wife, Mary, in downtown Glen Ellyn.
For years, skaters have enjoyed feeling like Norman Rockwell subjects as they glide across the ice. But the last two winters have failed to provide the freezing conditions necessary for skating, leaving the community to look elsewhere for winter fun, including man-made ice rinks at Newton Park.
That streak finally ended when extreme winter conditions allowed park district officials to open Lake Ellyn for ice skating last Friday.
“People are very anxious to get out there because the last two years, we have not had one day of skating on Lake Ellyn or Lake Foxcroft,” park district Executive Director Dave Harris said.
More than 100 community members strapped on their skates Friday and celebrated the return of ice skating to Lake Ellyn, Harris said.
By that time, the ice had thickened to 8 inches on the lake, allowing for the safe removal of snow from a large portion of its surface, he said.
Residents skated until too much snow accumulated on Lake Ellyn during early evening hours.
This snow was cleared off to reopen Lake Ellyn on Tuesday, and skating is expected to continue at the lake until rain comes to town this Friday, Harris said.
While preparing Lake Ellyn for skating is the main priority for the district, officials will look to bring skating to Lake Foxcroft as well this winter.
An ice skater himself, Harris said it had been disappointing not to be able to offer skating on Lake Ellyn since he began his role as executive director more than two years ago.
“It’s so scenic down there, and it’s such the centerpiece of Glen Ellyn,” he said.
Ice skating on Lake Ellyn is a longtime tradition in the village, and one to which Herwaldt can attest.
Herwaldt’s father, Paul, started his shoe service business in 1951 and quickly began to cater to local ice skaters by offering a used skate exchange program and skate-sharpening services, which continue today.
The last two winters saw a decrease in these types of customers for Paul’s Shoe Service, but this year – even prior to the opening of Lake Ellyn – Herwaldt experienced an upswing.
He thinks the change is due in part to skating at Newton Park, as well as indoor ice rinks in the area and rinks people have created in their own backyards out of frustration over Lake Ellyn.
For Herwaldt, who’s been sharpening ice skates since his dad taught him as a young child, the tradition of ice skating isn’t going away anytime soon.
“When Lake Ellyn opens, just the whole town wants to go ice skating,” he said. “It’s still a huge part of Glen Ellyn, I think.”
This year has seen improved ice skating at the Newton hockey rink, thanks to a new liner that goes over the tennis courts and holds in the water if the ice melts, making it easier to refreeze the rink, Harris said. The district also upgraded the rink’s lighting.
The other rink at Newton Park is for open skate, and both have been very crowded this season, said Harris, adding the town’s hockey boom can likely be credited to the success of the Blackhawks and the upcoming winter Olympics.
With skaters cutting the ice at Newton Park and Lake Ellyn and sledders and cross-country skiiers popping up around town, last Friday was a magical day to drive around Glen Ellyn, according to Harris.
“It was quite the winter wonderland,” he said.
Check skating conditions online
Find out which park district ice skating locations are open each day by visiting www.gepark.org/pro_weathercancellations.html.