news from the waterfront by Tim Matson


Here it comes again: the ice age. In the north there's frost on the morning fields, and before long ice will start edging out across the ponds and lakes. For some pond owners the coming of the ice signals an end to the pond season. Swim rafts are beached. Portable piers are put away. Aerators are turned off, or perhaps repositioned to locate open water close to shore where watering animals aren't likely to get hurt falling in.

But for many folks, winter is a season with just as much pond activity as summer. There's ice fishing. And skating for sport or just for fun. And if you don't feel like keeping a hockey rink area clear, a smaller area can be plenty for figure skating.

And there are practical activities for ice time. Pond owners take advantage of the frozen water to get projects done that can be aided by the weather.

A platform of ice can be helpful during tree trimming work near shore. Removal of trees, or limbing work, may go easier if you have a platform of ice to stand on, or to support skidding the trees out of the woods. In the case of embankment ponds with tough to get at upslope sides, tree removal can be especially challenging. The soil may be saturated and difficult to work on in warm weather. Access may be an issue. In winter, solid frozen ground and a platform of ice can make an impossible job practical.

But before you get carried away with winter pond work, some ice thickness safety tips should be


According to the University of Vermont Extension Service, 4" ice thickness is minimum for an individual (ice fishing, skating, etc.) Ice can be measured with a hand auger, portable power drill, ice chipper, or power auger; and a tape measure or ruler. It's important to remember that ice thickness can vary dramatically, so check all locations you plan to use. And keep in mind that springs, stream feeds, outflows, and overflow risers often prevent solid freezing, so beware these areas.

Other thickness recommendations include 5" for a snowmobile or ATV; 8-12" for a car or small pickup;
and 12-15" for a medium truck.

In addition to making tree work easier, ice is sometimes used as a platform for dropping sand or small smooth stones to create a beach. First, the beach material is dumped near the water or ice (dumping directly on ice might be too much weight in one place). Then the sand or stone is spread over the ice, where the beach is to be located. In the spring when the ice melts, the beach material drops into place. If the sand or stone is going to lie outdoors before spreading on ice, it should be covered to prevent moisture from freezing it into an immovable pile. Since the sand or stone will be spread in a relatively thin layer (6" or so), the weight of an individual plus the material shouldn't be any more than a snowmobile or truck, or even a heavy foot or two of snow.

Alas, the sand drop technique is not 100% foolproof.
As the ice melts, the area supporting the sand
may become a floating island and drift off target.
You might wind up with a beach on the other side of the pond.

October 25, 2013

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