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Skating on thin ice

Signs posted by the Campbell County Fire Department at Dalbey Memorial Park indicated thin ice in an area they performed recent training. (RJ Morgan/County 17)

A typical weekend this month at Dalbey Memorial Park has looked like a traditional winter scene out of a movie or book. There has been daily activity on the frozen pond, everything from ice fishing and skaters, to kids practicing hockey and walkers simply taking a stroll across the fishing lake.

The park has seen plenty of winter traffic. However, the recent increase in temperatures has led to weaker ice and water puddles in various spots.

A “thin ice” caution sign was erected late last week in the pond at Dalby Memorial Park. The sign is not from parks and recreation staff, but rather a notice from the fire department which had recently performed training in the immediate area which created holes and surface water.

Until another arctic front moves through the area to thicken ice, city officials are reminding visitors of all ages to beware and take precautions before walking the ice.

City of Gillette Parks Manager Janie Kuntz is thrilled that all the local parks continue to see steady traffic in the winter months but reminds ice enthusiasts to be careful regardless of the current air temperature.

“Ask someone to go on the ice with you, never go alone. Also, keep pets on a leash,” she said. “Remember, at least 4 inches of ice for one person on the ice.”

Dalbey Memorial Park is the only location in city limits for ice fishing. One of the most important ice fishing basics is to follow ice thickness guidelines. Most anglers know intuitively that thin ice can be extremely dangerous, fewer may know that white ice or “snow ice” is only about half as strong as new clear ice.

“An important thing to remember is … the newer the ice, the stronger the ice,” Kuntz said.

Many youths use the park to ice fish as well, so making sure they are aware of the precautions is important. In general, recreation of any kind should be on ice 4 inches of thickness or greater. Less than that should be avoided, Kuntz stressed.

According to the National Weather Service in Rapid City, the high temperatures in Gillette are expected to be above freezing for the next week. Another strong cold front is expected late next week where the overnight lows are expected to drop to near zero, which could pave the way for outdoor enthusiasts to return to the ice.

Things to keep in mind on the ice

To maximize ice fishing safety and other recreation on ice, keep in mind:

  1. New ice is typically stronger than old ice. Four inches of clear, newly formed ice may support one person, while 12 inches or more of old or partially thawed ice may not.
  2. Ice seldom freezes uniformly. It may be a foot thick in one location and only 2 inches a few feet away.
  3. The insulating effect of snow slows down the freezing process. The extra weight also reduces how much weight the ice sheet can support. Also, ice near shore can be weaker than ice that is farther out.
  4. Booming and cracking ice isn’t necessarily dangerous. It only means that the ice is expanding and contracting as the temperature changes.
  5. Schools of fish or flocks of waterfowl can also adversely affect the relative safety of ice. The movement of fish can bring warm water up from the bottom of the lake.

Sources: National Weather Service/Rapid City and www.takemefishing.org.


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