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In Kids & Family

Jeremy Prach's home rink is 30 feet by 50 feet. (PHOTO: Spencer Chumbley)

DIY ice rinks rally families, neighbors


Flooding your yard with water to make an ice skating rink isn't practical. Unless, of course, you, your kids and your neighborhood are really, really into hockey. Such is the case for Jeremy Prach.

For the past two years, Prach created a high-quality skating rink in his yard. He and his wife, Kara, live in Riverwest and own two properties next to each other. Between the two structures is an open lot that's ideal for a rink.

This is the third year for Prach's rink-making, but the first year was simply a learning experience.

"I tried to make an ice rink a few years ago with no liner. It did not work," says Prach. "Despite what people say, your dad did not do this, and a residential garden hose will not create a rink without a liner."

Two tears ago, Prach saw an ad for a liner in a parenting magazine by a Wisconsin-based company called Nice Rink. He asked for the liner for Christmas, got it and built the rink with friends and neighbors while on winter break from his job as a special ed teacher at Riverside High School.

"I would guess about 80 man-hours were involved in putting up the rink," says Prach.

The liner cost about $250, and he spent another $60 for plywood. Plus, Prach says, it's about $125 for the water bill during the three winter months.

This year, Prach made multiple improvements on the rink to make it even more professional. He started the project by leveling the yard with four yards of topsoil before laying down the liner.

"Last year, I did not level the yard with topsoil, so the ice was 16 inches in some spots and it took days to fill it up. A few times we had to cut open the liner and perform an open heart surgery and dig out the high spots and the ice was thin in those spots," says Prach. "The yard will be a hoot in the spring with a foot of mud."

Prach added lights and real goals instead of cut milk crates. Also, he plans to soon add a Web cam.

Although there are occasional figure skaters on the rink, the real focus of the rink is hockey. Prach is an avid hockey player and so is his six-year-old son, Loyal. (And most likely, his two-year-old son, Merit, will find himself on ice in the near future, too.)

The Prach rink is open to friends and neighbors anytime the lights are on, with kid-friendly hockey games 4-6 p.m. every weeknight and adults are invited after the kids are asleep to play hockey until 11 p.m. Weekend hours vary, depending on Prach and his son's league hockey games.

"Loyal will skate every day it's above 20 degrees," says Prach. "I try to organize three other adults to skate with me every night."

Prach also is the main organizer of the Riverwest 24, Milwaukee's only 24 hour bike race, held every July.

As for next year, Prach says the wheels are already turning.

"We always have big plans. Dreams get bigger with the more beer we drink," says Prach. "The tree house will soon double as a heated shanty."

Like Prach, Franklin's Mike Barber improved his homemade, backyard rink each year.

He found plans on the Internet and made a rink from 2001 to 2006, then finally abandoned the effort after a couple of consecutive warm winters and because he struggled to keep the rink level.

However, he has fond memories of the rink, especially because it symbolizes a time when his sons, now 16 and 15, were young and enthusiastic about playing hockey and spending time with the family.

"It was a great experience, for me and for my kids," says Barber. "But now I look at the huge garden that my wife planted (where the rink used to be) and I really like that a lot, too."

Talkbacks

sijan_heights | Jan. 18, 2010 at 12:17 p.m. (report)

Jeremy rules, he is a shining beacon of light, not just in Riverwest, but throughout the whole of MKE. Keep up all your awesome work.

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dukefame | Jan. 18, 2010 at 11:54 a.m. (report)

If you go over to Prach's, watch out for the empty beer cans and fifths of whiskey littered throughout the yard.

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Downtowner | Jan. 18, 2010 at 10:48 a.m. (report)

Great story. The community rinks are cool too. Atwater School in Shorewood has a nice rink that's basically run, kept up by the neighbors. Kosciuszko Park has a nice rink too. And, don't forget Lake Park. Open hours of the rink are M-F 3-8 p.m. for open skating and 8-10 p.m. for hockey only. Weekend hours are 12:30-8 p.m. for open skating and 8-10 p.m. for hockey only.

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get_rad | Jan. 18, 2010 at 10:07 a.m. (report)

I had the pleasure of meeting Jeremy and a bunch of other folks while playing at Jeremy's rink on New Year's Day. He's a class guy and we had an absolute blast. It's rad that he is involving the kids as much as possible too. Thanks for having us Jeremy. I look forward to another afternoon of hockey sometime soon!

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shorewood | Jan. 18, 2010 at 9:59 a.m. (report)

My Dad flooded our back yard for an ice rink every winter, while my brother and I were growing up! It was so much fun! The whole neighborhood got together to skate. We had the most excellent times! This article really brings back memories.

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