Strap on a pair of skates and limbo on the historic open-air roller rink in Greene County as Dan Kaercher learns it's not always easy to be mobile on wheels.
Hosted by Dan Kaercher, Iowa's Simple Pleasures features Iowa travel destinations, restaurants, events, parks, recreation and more. Produced by Iowa Public Television, the series highlights fun things for Iowans to do, see and taste, right here at home. Below are excerpts from Dan's journal of his travels in the state.
Okay, here's the inside scoop: I'm not the most graceful or agile fellow on the block. But I'm willing to give anything a try for the good of the cause. That's certainly the case today, when I find myself in a rink on roller skates for the first time in several decades, clutching the outside railing for dear life. Hmm...I wonder how long it takes a broken arm to heal?
On this muggy Sunday evening, Spring Lake Park is a refreshing sight, and another Iowa jewel I never knew existed before. My host, Andy Krieger, a partner in his family's wholesale greenhouse business, lives just across the road with his with his wife Cathy. He explains that the "lake" once was a huge gravel pit operated for the railroad. Now, it's a spring-fed water-recreation attraction maintained by the county and owned by the state.
Glancing around, I see plenty of RVs and campers, swimmers at a sandy beach, fishermen, and a concession stand that serves up a mean ice cream cone, among other treats. Since I always try to strike up conversations when I’m on the road like this, I learn this is a popular spot for family reunions. A couple of campers from as far as California and Colorado parked alongside some area vehicles attest to the park's popularity.
Andy tells me he traveled a lot prior to returning to his hometown and family business, having lived in Texas, Minesota and Costa Rica. He even did a stint in the Peace Corps, which helps explain his selfless commitment to keeping Spring Lake's vintage roller skating rink going. It's clearly a spare-time labor of love, not a money-making venture, for him. Thought to be the last of its kind in the state, the rink is an open-air affair that Andy manages during the summer months and boards up during the winter.
I’m really stepping back in time here. The mirrored ball (similar to the one I noted in the Lake Robbins Ballroom) dates back to 1929, when the rink was brand-new. Apparently, the rink and other attractions were built here during the pre-Depression "golden age" of amusement parks. I explore photos and clippings on the wall of the small, memorabilia-filled vestibule. They show the rink with an organ in the center (it's gone now, but there's a great sound system playing all types of music to rev up the skaters).
As the rink fills up, I take some comfort in the fact that my fellow skaters come in all age groups (age 7 to 70) and skill levels (beginner to smooth-as-silk). A few old-timers tell me they started skating here in the 1940s and 50s. Before the main event, Andy and his wife are kind enough to serve our IPTV crew a cookout supper in the park. Hamburgers and home-grown vegetable salads never tasted so good!
Well, time to lace up my vintage skates. I'm afraid I'm rather hopeless, as I pointed out earlier, but I do manage to creep along and not once do I land on my kiester in front of the assemblage. Meanwhile, our producer just can’t resist putting on some skates and joining in the limbo contest. She's terrific! I can only wish. Maybe if I keep working at it...
I'm struck how, all over Iowa, big-hearted people quietly go about doing good deeds, in this case saving a unique treasure for future generations of roller skaters.