Wistful Memories of a Winter Wonderland

A Wappingers Falls lake was once home to a town-wide tradition.

Once upon a time (isn’t that how all good stories begin?) in a winter wonderland in Wappingers Falls, the ice-covered lake was a magical place. It was a time when people spent hours outdoors, enjoying winter activities. Skaters would gather as soon as the ice was deemed safe. The cove, as it was called, was the area closest to the village bounded by West Main Street and West Street. This part always froze first and could be enjoyed before the rest of the lake was frozen.

There was no official way to test the strength or thickness of the ice. In fact, there were times when there was water along the edge seeping out from under the large floes, and thunderous rumblings underneath, even though the ice was thick. After a siege of very cold weather, daring souls would test out the part called “the channel,” heading toward the Route 9 bridge on the far side. When that froze, it allowed for skaters to venture forth and stand underneath the bridge and listen to the rumble of traffic overhead.

The atmosphere was circus-like with so many activities going on. Weekends would find up to a hundred people on the ice. These included teenagers and older children who lived within walking distance; there were parents toting young children on sleds or giving them their first experience on double-runner skates. Young athletes would come with their hockey sticks and spend the better part of the day playing pick-up games.

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After a snowstorm, the early arrivals would come with their shovels and clear the area for the games. Once word got out, more and more people would show up from outlying areas. There were also groups of young seminarians who would walk down from Mt. Alvernia. Many of them were from the Boston area, and hockey was a favorite sport and pastime of theirs. Their excellent skating abilities made them welcomed members of the teams.

For the rest, there were games of tag and whips, in which skaters formed a long line, holding hands and going as fast as they could, before stopping and turning quickly. This would send the people at the end of the line whizzing off into open space. Great fun!

Some people would be practicing figure skating moves and jumps hoping to be the next Olympic stars. And of course, there would be the speed skaters with those funny-looking long-bladed skates and their equally unique posture, bent over and swinging one arm to intensify their speed.

Nighttime skating was enhanced by the bonfires built with wood gathered from along the shore. They weren’t just for warmth, but for ambience as well. Illumination from the street lights filtered down between the buildings and created a soft glow to see and skate by.

Those times are long gone. Does anyone even skate outdoors anymore? My skates now hang on a hook in the basement. Not that I expect to wear them any time soon, but they are a wonderful reminder of many hours of outdoor fun in winter.

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Pegeen McCloskey Wall is retired from a career in fundraising and public relations with agencies serving individuals with developmental disabilities.

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