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Breaking ice, building community

Chris Kohler and Mark Johnson first built a backyard ice rink on Farmington's Lake Ann two seasons ago. Now -- despite the rigid 2017-18 season's start -- the rink attracts many in the Mystic Meadows to brave the outdoors. Kara Hildreth / contributor 1 / 2
Bundled up for winter skating fun in Farmington are Katie Kohler (back row) Amber Kohler and Kendall Johnson; (middle) Wyatt Conine, Gracie Conine, Chloe Conine, Lily Dobson and Darby Dobson; (front) Delaney Dobson and Maddie Kohler. Kara Hildreth / contributor 2 / 2

Tucked behind Farmington's Mystic Meadows neighborhood is a winter wonderland where families embrace the outdoors and break the ice.

A backyard ice rink serves as a venue for people to skate, visit and crack jokes around a cozy bonfire. Families share a meal of roasted hot dogs and warm beverages. All come bundled up with laced-up ice skates while a few sport hockey sticks and are ready for a friendly, competitive game on the ice.

"This is the second time this year we have been out here besides Christmas Eve afternoon," Janee Johnson said one recent day after the cold snap. She said the ice rink builds community in the neighborhood.

Frigid, below-zero temps have prevented frequent visits this season, but the neighbors admit they are ready to ice skate this long winter and get outdoors.

When Mark and Janee Johnson moved into the neighborhood a couple years ago, they soon came to realize they loved the backyard, the neighbors and the incredible view with the lovely lake. But that was during the warm months.

Mark thought: Why not enjoy the lake all year long? Why not turn the lake into a winter wonderland?

He took on constructing the ice rink alongside neighbor Chris Kohler.

"Last year was the first time I ever ice skated because I guess I never got around to it, and I rollerbladed, so it was not too bad," Kohler said. He now likes to skate with his wife, Stephanie, and their three children.

The backyard ice rink spans 85 by 200 feet atop the large S-shaped Lake Ann. To bring the ice rink to fruition, the two men did a little YouTube research. They used an auger drill and a pipe that allowed them to transfer water from the lake into a hose to flood the rink for smoother ice, Johnson said.

Janee admits husband Mark is a jack of all trades.

"We have a rink rake that is basically a piece of piping with holes drilled into it, and it drags a towel behind it like an old beach towel, and it just smooths off the surface of the ice," Kohler said.

Now all the neighbors take turns clearing off snow to keep the ice in pristine condition.

Darby Dodson, 9, clearly appreciates it. "I like how smooth the ice is and I can skate easily without falling and I like to skate with my friends," she said.

Darren Dodson grew up playing hockey in Alaska.

"The winters up there are a lot colder with the ambient temperatures but here the humidity and the wind is what makes it colder," said Dodson, who coached his son until two years ago, switched to coach his daughter and now is a head coach in Farmington.

Johnson and Kohler also strung white lights to illuminate the rink during the winter evening, which have attracted others to join the fun.

Mary and Bill Conine, who moved to Farmington from Michigan two years ago, come with their three children. "I thought it was a requirement to buy ice skates," she said.

Kendall Johnson, 12, said she learned to ice skate in just a few days.

"I now like to skate and I have fallen down a bunch and have developed battle scars," she said.

This ice rink brings together neighbors who might normally not see each other until the spring thaw.

"In the winter it is so easy to be closed up and stay in the house, and this gets you out and gets the blood flowing and gets the kids together," Kohler said.

Janee Johnson agrees. "It encourages the kids to be outdoors and the value in the neighborhood is about building community."

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