Smooth skating for outdoor rink
In Wellesley, many pitch in to turn idea into reality
Most winters, Hunnewell Field on Washington Street in Wellesley sits empty save a lonely snowman or two. The lights over the softball field stay off and the bathrooms, locked.
“In the winter, absolutely nothing happens,’’ said Jim Conlin, a member of the town’s Recreation Commission. “It’s a habitat for worms.’’
This winter, though, all that could change: The Recreation Department is planning to set up an outdoor skating rink at Hunnewell, and people all over town, from the Fire Department to the local youth hockey organization, are pitching in to help make it happen.
“You have both the public, civic people, the Recreation Department, the Department of Public Works, even the Natural Resources Commission, trying to bring this thing to life,’’ said Andy Wrobel, the Recreation Commission’s chairman. “It’s a really nice public-private partnership.’’
Based on an outdoor rink in Concord, the proposed ice sheet in Wellesley would be constructed under the softball field’s lights, next to the tennis courts. The design is simple and environmentally friendly, involving the use of snow, ice, and water, plus cooperative weather.
Nearby rinks have been very successful. Newton, starting two years ago, has had an outdoor rink at the Hyde Playground on Lincoln Street every winter. The rink is built by the Newton Highlands Neighborhood Area Council and privately maintained by citizens, on land the city allows them to use for free. While the design is slightly different - a wooden frame and a plastic tarp form the rink’s bowl - the idea is essentially the same: low-cost community fun.
“It really has united people,” said Alderman John Rice, executive director of the Hyde Community Center, who spearheaded the outdoor rink. “People who would normally be hanging out in their house all winter are out there skating with their families.”
In Wellesley, officials are prepared to wait for about 4 inches of snow to fall, and have a plow push the snow into an oval bank that will form the edges of the rink. The Fire Department would then fill the bowl with water and let it freeze.
From roughly the middle of December to the middle of March, officials say, Wellesley residents could have a safe, well-lighted place to skate outdoors. Come spring, the rink would melt right back into the ground, and by April the field would be ready for softball.
“This is the Currier and Ives, outdoor, under the moon type of thing,’’ Wrobel said at a recent meeting of the Natural Resources Commission where he formally unveiled the plan as part of his application for the board’s approval. “Everybody who hears the idea of having a place to skate is really enthusiastic.’’
So enthusiastic, in fact, that they’re not just sitting back in gleeful anticipation - some residents are jumping right in. More than half of the expense would be the cost of plowing and replowing to maintain the rink, likely to be done by a private contractor for $4,000 to $6,000 for the season. The Wellesley Youth Hockey Association’s board voted on Aug. 29 to cover that cost.
“I think that the most pure form of youth hockey is unstructured pond shinny - you just throw down your sticks and play,’’ said John Lawrence, the board member who suggested having the association pay for the plowing. “Anything we can do to give our players a chance to do that is something we want to support.’’
The money will come both from the association’s general operating fund and its annual Face-Off fund-raising event in October.
Lawrence says that the league will not ask for special access to the ice in return for its donation.
“This is really to grow hockey in the town and give everyone, including people who might be new to the sport, a chance to get into it,’’ he said.
The other financial hurdle facing the Hunnewell Field skating rink is the cost of the electricity to power the lights, which could run about $900 per month. Wrobel said the Recreation Department will happily cover the expense.
Everything else, Wrobel said, is taken care of. “It’s been really exciting, because it’s required all of the different town boards to get involved,’’ he said.
The Fire Department has offered to fill the rink with water free of charge, and to spray it down periodically to keep the ice from cracking or becoming rough. A department official said the Hunnewell rink could provide a bonus in winter safety, by cutting down the number of people skating at Morses Pond or Longfellow Pond. They are popular skating spots, but the ice can be thin or unsteady.
“What you’re doing by having this skating rink, it controls the chances of having an accident like somebody falling through ice,’’ said Deputy Fire Chief Jeffrey Peterson.
DPW staff members will plan the rink’s construction and maintenance. They will figure out the rink’s exact location on the field, decide when the ground is sufficiently frozen to start the process, and handle getting a plow on and off the field without damaging the outfield grass.
Wrobel still needs to obtain approval from the Natural Resources Commission. Executive director Janet Bowser described the commission as “very supportive’’ of the idea. She hopes to hold a vote on the permit during the panel’s Sept. 27 meeting.
The Hunnewell rink will not be as smooth as the ice of an indoor skating rink, Wrobel said, but it’s in a central location, and its charm will offset any bumps in its surface.
“When you skate outside, you trade off some of that perfect ice for the fact that you’re outside under the stars, in nature,’’ he said.