The outdoor ice rink at Pineview Park in the Rattlesnake has a storied past. Before it became a favorite spot for hockey players and skaters, it was a graveyard and then a farm and hospital for the poor and indigent.
When Bill Bevis first laid eyes on the plot of land in winter 1974, it was a county park and local firefighters were trying to pool water into a depression at the park's back end to create a rink.
"They had two fire hydrants open and two trucks and they put in like two or three feet of water in the course of two hours," says Bevis, a retired University of Montana English professor. "In the morning it had melted out of the ground somewhere underneath ... and there were shards of ice sticking in the air. It looked like the Arctic."
After the firefighter debacle, Bevis decided to take over. The following year, he formally started the rink at Pineview Park.
"Ice is really a subtle, beautiful thing," says Bevis, who learned the ice-making craft while growing up in the Northeast. His red wool coat matches his rosy cheeks, and he looks like a man who has spent a lifetime outdoors in freezing temperatures. At 72 years old, he plays in two hockey leagues, participates in daily pickup games at Pineview and still tends to the rink. He notes that three other "bored" membersPaul Sharkey, Craig Podner and Dave Harmonand 15 volunteers, many of whom are hockey players, have joined the effort of maintaining the site.
Bevis says the first lesson of proper ice making is not to pool water like the well-intentioned firefighters did 40 years ago. The key is building the ice layer by layer.
For the first layer, "you have to have white ice, not just ice," he says. "You can't have transparent or dark ice because the sunlight will come through and warm up the ground and melt everything. We whiten it by misting with the big rubber hose."
The ice-making team smooths the slick surface of each new layer using a wild-looking tractor equipped with a horizontal power broom on the front and a plow on the back. The team built its own water pump and has a custom-made hose setup that allows volunteers to work with maximum efficiency.
The outdoor rink at Pineview was the most reliable ice in town until Glacier Ice Rink was built in the 1990s, says Bevis. The special topography and limited light in the Rattlesnake Valley kept the site open for three months a year and it quickly became popular.
"In the early '90s, before Glacier rink was built, we were having real problems," says Bevis. "The ice makers could not get out there to play hockey because there were such crowds. In order to keep up the energy for ice making, which takes a lot of time, the county allowed us to reserve certain times for the ice makers to play."
When Glacier Ice Rink opened its doors, it relieved some of the pressure on Pineview's crew.
In 2007, Pineview Park was transferred from the county to the city. Bevis and other members of the park board led a successful campaign to pass a bond issue in their special improvement district that raised $750,000 to equip the park with improved facilities. The ice makers now work with the city to maintain the outdoor rink and receive $1,000 annually to fund the operation.
"It is fantastic. We would not be able, using city staff resources, to come close to maintaining the rink to the level and quality that volunteers are able to do," says Donna Gaukler, director of Missoula Parks and Recreation. "They are out there super late at night and very early in the morning. ... I think it is a huge service to the entire community and it is really cool to have a natural surface ice rink available to folks for free."
Today, rink-goers use two-by-four boards to split the ice between free skaters and hockey players, and the rink includes a special area for beginning skaters and children. When the weather gets too warm, Bevis closes the rink to protect the surface. He says that everyone follows the rules.
"What has really pleased us, since we built the new park, there is such community support for it," he says. "Like, even the teenagers obey the rules. We don't have to police it."
Each year, Bevis and his team plan a new major improvement. This summer he hopes to level the sod underneath the rink so that the ice is more flat. He says he would also like to install a webcam at the rink so users know whether or not it's open for public use.
When asked what he has learned from all these years of ice making, Bevis laughs.
"I've learned patience, not trying to do too much at once, the right amount of water, not too much," he says. "And those valuable lessons have utterly failed to spread to the rest of my life in any way, but I can make ice."