MISSOULA — Pineview Park has the only natural ice rink in Missoula.
It's nestled in the Lower Rattlesnake neighborhoods, and since 1974 a winter scene returns every year with the help of volunteers.
“I came in ‘74 and found a house in the middle of Rattlesnake, and I've been there ever since," Bill Bevis, a lead volunteer, told MTN News.
Now and for over four decades, the sound of skates on ice echoes around the park and through the surrounding pine trees — and it all started with the vision of one man.
He came to town for a job as an English professor at the University of Montana and has since retired. An avid ice skater, he was surprised to find a lack of rinks in the area at the time.
“We got the fire department to come when it was 20 below 0 one night and hitch up to the fire hydrant and let it just flood and let it freeze up,” Bevis recalled.
Bevis rallied a small ice-making crew 46 years ago and sprayed water over the grass and watched as it froze to create a plank of ice.
They have kept it up every year and now, with the help of Missoula Parks and Recreation, things are a little more sophisticated. A Zamboni and electric hose helps do the job.
“It's not uncommon to see those guys out there at two in the morning, four in the morning. In the worst weather imaginable,” said Missoula Parks and Recreation Director Donna Gaukler.
Gaukler says the city incorporated the rink into its operations in 2007.
“Well since about 1996 our temperatures here in town have been just warm enough that we weren't able to continue to keep Silver's Lagoon in McCormick Park as a viable public free ice rink,” Gaukler told MTN News.
Pineview Park is higher in elevation than the valley floor, so it’s colder by an average of 5°, according to Gaukler.
Bevis has seen things change in Missoula throughout the years.
“Well, the middle of the Rattlesnake hasn't changed that much, but there's a lot more traffic going by to get to the Upper Rattlesnake.”
The Rattlesnake has also tracked warmer temperatures.
“In the first 10 or 20 years, you could count on a 20-below, a couple of 20-below nights where you can just come out with a full hose and when you got to the other end it was freezing here and you start all over,” Bevis recalled.
But he says those conditions aren’t common anymore.
Year by year, the cold temperatures fluctuate, altering the amount of “skate-days” for the rink. But this year, water couldn’t be poured to make ice until Christmas Eve — only the second time that’s happened in 46 years.
“The days are numbered because of climate change for this rink. No question about it,” Bevis said.
The rink continues to be filled with laughter, as children, families, and friends enjoy the ice that Bevis and his friends have worked to provide for all this time.
“What's really cool about it…I played hockey all my life through semi-pro. And I love the scene out here,” he told MTN News. “ So, this is a halfway in between a hockey game and 18th-century European painting of children skating on a pond at the edge of the woods.”
“There's many reasons that this ice rink works as a traditional public natural ice rink. The most important one is Bill,” Gaukler concluded.