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By mid-February, the ice on Lake Superior had thickened to over a foot near Duluth. So a group of friends spontaneously got together and shoveled out looping paths, a quarter mile out from Leif Erikson Park, and the People’s Free Skate Rink was born. It became a community attraction with a carnival-like atmosphere and dj’s providing battery-powered music. Over the next few weeks hundreds of people came by to skate, build campfires and carve new paths.
Jim Richardson, also known as Lake Superior Aquaman for his whimsical underwater videos, is one of the founders. When complimented on the rink by Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, Richardson said, “By the way we’ve declared the rink a free republic and we’re seceding from the city. Hope you don’t mind.” Larson responded, “I’d expect nothing less.”
On March 7 and 8 the rink held a “Last Days Freakout” during a 48-hour window of warmer temperatures, less wind and no snow. The Spin Collective, a local fire dance group, performed on the ice Friday evening. The plan was to carve a spinning carousel in the ice on which the troupe would perform, but task proved too daunting. Still the attempt was a show in itself, with the chainsaw mounted on a custom-built wooden harness on skis.
Lake Superior was 95 percent covered by ice at its peak on March 8 but dropped to nearly 80 percent by March 12. Ice coverage has become increasingly rare with warmer winters. The last time over 90 percent of the lake froze was in 2015.