I grew up skating on Verona Park Lake. Back then, we could make a chain of skaters that stretched from the boathouse almost to the island and skate together until we whipped the last person forward at a fearsome rate. Then we laughed like crazy and did it again. We could skate on the lake south of the boathouse, too, although you had to walk across the grass to get there because it never quite froze under the bridge.
We don’t get to skate much like that on Verona Park Lake now. Every few years the perfect storm does happen and there are enough consecutive days of freezing weather for someone from the County to come out and change the “No Skating” signs to “Skating Today” and put up cones before it rains or snows on the ice. With the first sheet of ice forming on the water and temperatures expected to be near freezing for the next 10 days, maybe we’ll get lucky. Then, grab your skates and the moment, because Verona Park Lake, with its big boathouse and indoor fireplace, remains the best place to skate in our area.
But the Park is hardly the only place to skate, and on the plus side, the other skating ponds in the area are more shallow and freeze faster. Head south on Fells Road (that’s the traffic light by the Community Center) and you’ll eventually hit the first place likely to freeze, a man-made pond known simply as The Pond. Located at the corner of Fells Road and Forest Way, it is actually two ponds with a little warm-up hut in between. If the American flag is flying, you’re good to go. This is a big destination for hockey players, so if you’re skating with little kids, go early in the day. The Pond is technically for Essex Fells residents, but no one checks I.D.–just don’t wear your Verona sweats.
Next likely to freeze is the pond at the Canfield-Morgan House in Cedar Grove. This is the old farmhouse that you drive by every time you go to Willowbrook Mall. Turn right on Commerce Road at the intersection of Fairview and Pompton avenues, and look for the sign into the parking lot. There’s a little pond, with an outdoor fireplace in the gazebo. The bathroom building isn’t always open, though, so plan ahead. Some people report having been asked to pay a nominal charge, which seems only fair to help the Cedar Grove Historical Society run the place.
And finally, there’s the pond in Grover Cleveland Park, which straddles Caldwell and Essex Fells. Its park volunteers recently remodeled the skate house, so you can count on a warm fire and sometimes hot chocolate. This park is popular, so parking can be tight, and, again, early in the day is best if you have little skaters. Skating is free, but bring change to donate to the hot chocolate fund.
If you’ve already figured out that MyVeronaNJ.com is the first place to check if there’s skating, congratulations, you’re right.