Cold weather. Snow days off from school. Numerous cancellations. Reruns in the vast wasteland of TV. What to do?
How about go ice skating and play hockey?
They aren't exactly common activities in the local area, but this kind of cold weather isn't common either.
Danny Westfall enjoys a moment alone on the “Harlan Ice Rink” that the community has enjoyed during this cold weather. In the foreground is a snow cave several attendees worked together to create. (Photo by Lewie Osborne)
During the last cold snap Danny Westfall and Fred Detwyler, both of New Martinsville, discovered a rather large area of flood water that had been left behind in the area of The Marina along Harlan Drive in New Martinsville. Because that flood water is stagnant and not very deep, it froze and created the perfect place for ice skating. So of course they got out the skates and had some fun-along with some friends and family who joined in the activity.
When the extremely cold weather returned last week, so did the local skaters. But the second time the "ice rink" seemed to take on a life of its own-largely through social media and of course the more old fashioned "word of mouth".
Westfall and his wife, Cathy Westfall, would put out the notice on Facebook that they would be at the ice at a certain time and all were welcome. Of course it is just ice on public property, so it's always open, but "Mr. Danny" seems to bring a kind of child-like magic with him wherever he goes.
He is a bus driver for Wetzel County Schools that makes the bus "fly" for the pre-K students on their way to the Wetzel County Center for Children and Families and he is the "bubble man" who takes the Bubble Wagon to countless local events. Cathy is usually by his side, but the kids always seem to gravitate toward "Mr. Danny".
"Danny and Cathy Westfall are the pied pipers of Wetzel County," said Robbin Rector. "They keep the kids occupied in a fun and active manner-bubbles in the summer for the last couple of years and now a make shift ice rink for the winter. With their busy schedules, they do all of this with a smile for kids of all ages."
And smiles are exactly what glided over the ice along Harlan Drive. The word spread and more and more people came-young and old, skilled and novice. Some wore skates, but some just wore their boots. All had fun.
But who has skates in this rather temperate area where water rarely freezes enough for such activity? Danny Westfall. A couple decades ago Danny had a farm that included a pond he would mostly drain in the fall, leaving it more prone to freezing. When the temperature was right and the ice was ready, family, friends, and neighbors on Fluharty Run would come to the pond for some figure skating and exciting games of hockey.
It was then that his mother, Doris Westfall-an avid yard saler-began purchasing any discarded pair of ice skates she could find for cheap. The collection began and Danny still has those skates that have survived the test of time.
So that is how visitors to the ice could be greeted with Danny's smiling face asking if they'd like a pair of skates. He'd show them the contents of his ice-side trailer and let them pick out a pair. He also had extra socks, gloves, hats, helmets, and even snow suits. After all, a skater must be properly outfitted to be warm and safe.
But he also brought with him hot chocolate, blankets, and chairs for some extra comforts.
Local photographer Lewie Osborne made several trips to the rink to take photos of the idyllic scene. "The thought of neighborhood kids ice skating on a frozen-over creek while a gentleman loans out ice skates and keeps the hot chocolate and blankets warm sounds like something pulled from a storybook about an idyllic small town 100 years ago," said Osborne. "We are lucky to have families like the Detwylers and Westfalls in New Martinsville to show us how small town life can still be fun as the snow piles up in the winter."
After people would get their "ice legs" or after they gave up and resorted to boots, then out came the hockey gear-sticks, pucks, and cones for make-shift goals. "I just love the feel of sliding a puck across the ice," said Danny.
The fun was for all ages. Monday morning Santina Vigliotti said, "Heck, a 35-year-old was telling me this morning that he had a great time playing hockey on the ice!"
From the fun-filled yells and laughter from the hockey play on Sunday, there were many adults revisiting their childhood-or perhaps a scene they wished they had enjoyed in their childhood.
Christina Coulter said she just couldn't believe the whole set up Danny had when she went to the ice Friday. "My kids love ice skating and I've only taken them a handful of times to Wheeling Park. They absolutely had a blast!" she said. "We all played a family game of hockey. It's just perfect. That's all they talked about for days-how awesome it was."
She added, "You know what's great is these kids have the worst cabin fever. It was perfect."
Patti Roberts said of Danny and Cathy, "They have a passion for the youth of New Martinsville. It gives the kids something fun to do. If kids have something to do, that is less time to think of things to do which could be detrimental to their and others well being."
The Glasscock family enjoyed a few turns on the ice. Melody Glasscock, who said she felt like an excited kid at the thought of heading to the "ice rink" commented, "I certainly appreciate the effort and hard work Danny and Cathy put into everything they do. They truly are selfless people. The only thing they want in return is for everyone to have a good time, smile, laugh, and create memories. They are just good people, love them!"
"He is allowing memories to be made and the opportunity to happen that some children may not have ever experienced," said Billie Zimmerman. "It is such an awesome thing to do for the kids and those adults who are young at heart."
Karen Stout said, "It truly feels like something from the late-1800's and early-1900's. It truly is a feel-good nostalgia moment."
The nostalgia was evident in some of the Facebook posts on photos and mentions of the ice rink phenomenon. People shared their memories of skating during their childhood. They related the Westfalls and Detwylers to those in their past who helped them experience the joy of winter.
"Celebrate winter, don't just endure it!" Danny said on one of his Facebook posts announcing the next time for skating.
Many people did just that and New Martinsville Parks and Recreation Director Bev Gibb noticed. "I think it's great," she said. "How much fun are you having?! Kudos to you guys!"
On Monday she talked with Street Commissioner Gary Willey about the make-shift ice rink and later that day he or his crew cleared the snow off of and added cinders to the gravel lane and the "parking lot" the visitors have now created in the field. All of that property is owned by the city.
Gibb said she was going to look into the possibility of creating an official skating area on some city property in the future. That was one of the ideas that has continued to be proposed for the old Bruce Pool. They are currently working toward making it a spray park, but with the understanding that the equipment might be able to be removed and make a skating surface in winter.
Gibb said it would just be a beautiful sight on a wintry evening with the antique lights on around the rink.
Speaking of lights-Danny had those at the "rink" too. If the skating fun lasted into the twilight, he started his generator and put some light on the subject at hand. One of those subjects was a snow cave that was the brainchild of six-year-old Spencer Cannizzaro. He had watched a YouTube video of how to make a snow cave and so he was ready for Mr. Danny and his parents, Bart and Clare Cannizzaro to make it happen.
On Saturday the snow was covering the ice and of course it needs to be cleared to have a proper skating surface. So the clearing began, with a fair amount of it going toward Spencer's cave. Sunday's snow added to the cave and the community effort finally yielded a pretty neat structure with seven openings!
"The entire Cannizzaro family appreciates the effort put forth to bring the community together for simple, snowy fun," said Clare Cannizzaro. "The memories made on that ice in the past week are precious and priceless. . . and are teaching our children that enjoying every moment and every one is important. And maybe showing our children how to team up and work together to build a snow cave or to clear the ice to play hockey will equip them in the future to look out for others and be mindful of those around them. Just like Danny and Cathy do, always. They truly have a knack for making every child feel special. We have headed down to the ice multiple times in the past few days...with just as much anticipation (if not more!) as our kiddos!"