Gliding Through the Winter Freeze

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Another week of freezing cold makes this the perfect time for ice skating. Yes, I am talking about that timeless activity that will take you back to childhood bonfires, rosy cheeks, and a thermos full of hot chocolate. And I am suggesting you embrace the cold before it melts into spring.

All you need is a green flag over a frozen pond, a pair of skates, and a gorgeous outdoor destination to make a day of it.

Essex Fells’ outdoor ice skating rink – known as The Pond – is a favorite, picturesque spot for winter skating. Never heard of it? That’s because the Pond has been Essex County’s best-kept winterland secret…until now.

On the corner of Fells Road and Forest Way and nestled in a wooded green that surrounds a shallow meadow in the spring, the Pond is a privately-maintained public space, and it is one of the roomiest and best-maintained outdoor skating ponds around. On any given day when the green flag is up, dozens of skaters — from toddlers to seniors — can be found lacing up their skates in the cozy warming hut and gliding onto one of two frozen ponds. Many spend every free afternoon here in a dazzle of spins, turns, hockey pucks and, yes, the occasional spill.

“In Essex Fells they say you learn how to skate before you learn how to walk,” said Frank Gerard Godlewski.  He was wearing a shearling coat and hockey skates, and was as happy and chatty as can be.  “Those of us who live here jokingly call [town] the enchanted forest.”

A long-time Essex Fells resident, Godlewski skates here on Sunday mornings when the ice is relatively empty before lunchtime, and sometimes after work, when luminous lights illuminate the Pond well into the night.

The Pond is maintained by the Ice Pond Committee, a volunteer group of local men who test the ice, clear the snow, and oversee the purchase and maintenance of equipment that includes four snow blowers and three tractor/sweepers.

Patrick Miczak, a committee member and parent whose twenty-year-old daughter “grew up skating here,” was blowing snow off the ice on a recent Sunday morning, and stopped to chat.

“We have no downtown – this is our social thing,” Miczak said. “We’ll work through the night so these kids can skate.”

The committee ensures that the ice is safe by drilling a hole and measuring its thickness – the traditional way – but sometimes, Miczak said, they just drive a Jeep over the Pond.

Cost of maintaining the Pond is paid for by resident donations, and there’s no fee or proof of residence required here or at the county’s other outdoor skating destinations which include Edgemont Park in Montclair, Grover Cleveland Park in Essex Fells, and at North Caldwell Skating Pond in North Caldwell. Bring your skates and most importantly: ONLY SKATE WHEN YOU SEE THE GREEN FLAG.

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