Avon Councilman offers to drive Zamboni in ongoing effort to bring ice skating back to Nottingham Lake
Nottingham Lake discussion has been ongoing in Avon
AVON — An intoxicated man froze to death after falling in Nottingham Lake in the winter of 2004-2005.
Five years later, a Town of Avon employee broke through the ice and fell into the freezing water while operating a skid steer. He was pulled from the water quickly and had a full recovery.
The next winter, a town employee was using a front loader to clear snow off the lake. The vehicle broke through the ice and sank with the employee inside, but he was able to make it out alive through the vehicle’s escape hatch.
By 2012, the practice of maintaining ice skating and allowing winter access on Nottingham Lake had been terminated. The Town Council has made efforts to see ice skating return to Avon, but the recommendation from town staff is to not proceed with reopening Nottingham Lake for ice skating. The stories listed above were included in a report to the council as this winter was getting underway.
Members of the council expressed displeasure at the recommendation and elements of the report, including the fact that most records of ice skating on Nottingham Lake have been destroyed.
“I don’t really understand how records of a major town activity are completely destroyed, so we don’t have any record of our past practice,” said Councilwoman Tamra Underwood.
Councilman Chico Thuon made a hard push to get more access to the lake in 2019. He also asked for better information to be kept about the ice.
“I’d like to have some studies done this winter of actual data,” Thuon said in November. “I think we should do ice depth gauges.”
As a result, staff was directed to monitor lake conditions throughout the winter, and collect data in relation to temperature and ice thickness.
In examining the town’s current situation, it was also determined that it is not illegal to venture onto the ice currently, and the town is not liable for incidents of people falling through the ice since they do not maintain the ice.
“I think that so long as we make clear that people are assuming the risk themselves and the town has no control over this lake, I think that we can protect the town,” said town attorney Paul Wisor.
Town staff was directed to change the signage around the lake to make clear that if you venture onto the ice, you are doing so at your own risk, rather than the previous language which implied venturing onto the ice was not permitted.
Thuon has welcomed the change; on Tuesday, he said he had been ice fishing on Nottingham Lake with his family in recent days. While he’s enjoying a small victory, Thuon is still a proponent of going further with the possibilities of ice activities on Nottingham Lake.
“When I was a kid in my 20s, some of the best nights in Avon were broomball tournaments out there,” Thuon said in November.
Council members also reminisced on the 2000s, when other events took place on the ice.
“Pond hockey was a very cool event,” said Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes.
Going back to a more official ice surface on the lake — maintained by the town and suitable for pond hockey — would saddle the town with the liability of thin ice, as well as labor and hardware expenses which could approach $50,000 in year one, according to an estimate from the town.
But town staff points to another hard truth about the reality of ice on Nottingham Lake these days.
“If we had the temperatures that we had in the early 90s, I’m all for it,” said Public Works Director Gary Padilla.
Lance Richards, the town’s director of human resources and risk management, informed the council, using graphs from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that the average winter temperature in Eagle County has risen almost three degrees in the last 30 years.
When the Avon Pond Hockey tournament decided not to return to Avon, it was after one of the tournament organizers’ annual events had to be canceled due to unstable ice.
“We couldn’t put board boundaries out there so we had to use snow, and that in itself, with some of the warmer temperatures, weighed the ice down, and it became a big issue,” Padilla said. “Another thing that contributed to the ice falling apart was we would go out there and stripe the lines with paint, and that attracted the heat also.”
The fact that water from Buck Creek flows through the lake continuously throughout the winter doesn’t help with ice either, Richards said.
“That flow of water is what makes this inherently unstable towards the center,” Richards said, “and in fact was likely the cause of the death that we had, we believe, in 2004.”
Council members remembered it differently. Underwood, who was also on the council when the fatality occurred, said the hole the victim fell in was put there on purpose.
“The center of the lake was intentionally aerated and left open by the town engineer,” Underwood said.
“He didn’t fall through, he walked into it,” Thuon said. “I remember the day.”
The council has acknowledged that staff’s memories of working to maintain the ice on Nottingham Lake are not as pleasant as council members’ memories of the recreational activities the maintenance provided. The employee who was lucky to escape with his life after sinking in the town’s frontloader in 2010 suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and left his position with the town four months later.
In an attempt to bridge the gap between the feelings of council and staff, Thuon on Tuesday volunteered to help with operations if ice maintenance could be returned to Nottingham Lake.
“I’ll drive the Zamboni,” he said.
For downvalley humans, it’s pretty cool when elk decide to hunker down around Eagle for the winter. For the elk, it’s more of a lesser-of-two-evils situation.