By Robb Murray
---- — MANKATO — Don't call it an ice-skating rink.
Can you put on a pair of skates and zip around just you can at All Season Arena or the nearest frozen lake? Yes. But it's not ice.
The new Mary Dotson Skating Rink, which will debut alongside the second running of the Kiwanis Holiday Lights extravaganza, was unveiled Tuesday in Sibley Park at the very spot it will stand when it is installed for the season.
It's made of a synthetic substance that its maker says will last up to 10 years and will require little maintenance.
So while it may not be the same as the frozen sheet of ice people recall fondly from back in the day, it will always be skatable, will not be subject to the fickle Minnesota weather, and can be picked up and moved anywhere.
"It will be a complement to the Kiwanis Holiday Lights project," said Bryan Sowers, Mankato Area Foundation Board chairman.
The rink was made possible because of Denny and Carole Dotson. During a bus tour last year he and several others talked about the potential for a skating rink, and Dotson said he was willing to help make it happen. A few months later the idea of a synthetic rink came up, and its advantages seemed like a good fit.
The Dotsons have a philanthropic fund set up through the Mankato Area Foundation, and they authorized the foundation to purchase the synthetic rink at a cost of about $50,000. The foundation then gifted the rink to the city of Mankato, which reportedly plans to use it for events throughout the year when it's not installed at Sibley during the lights display.
As of now the plan is to have the rink near the zoo area, and it will be constructed in an oval shape so skaters can move in a circular pattern. In the middle of the oval will be benches for sitting and a fire pit.
The synthetic rink will come from a Maple Grove company called Kwik Rink. They've been making synthetic rinks — which come in chunks that resemble connectable rubber floor mats — since the early 1990s. The version they have now is their third-generation product and is used by cities and professional hockey players alike.
To demonstrate, they had Chloe Bachman, a hockey player from St. Peter, skate around to show how the material performs similar to ice. After a series of hard turns, Bachman demonstrated a hockey stop that looked exactly like it would look on ice, minus the ice shavings spraying into the air.
Dotson said he was driven by the fond memories of his mother, who kept a flooded ice rink in the backyard. He said he remembers helping flood that rink, and the many neighborhood kids who would come to their house to skate, help maintain the rink, and enjoy a cup of hot cocoa when they were done.