Riley Sullivan is not yet an old pro when it comes to ice skating, but give her some time.
Near-freezing temperatures couldn’t keep her off the ice on Sunday.
And even though her nose and cheeks were red from the cold weather, she happily obliged her dad, Sean, when he asked her for a high-five hand slap just before they exited the rink.
And at 17 months old, she even has her own skates.
“This is her second time on the ice,” said Riley’s mother, Jackie, on Sunday, which marked the return of free ice skating at Martin Luther King Park in Buffalo.
About 25 skaters were on hand to christen the ice rink, which is part of the City of Buffalo’s new $4.5 million all-season water attraction that opened as a splash pad last summer and then a reflecting pool during the fall.
But it was the winter attraction that got the attention.
“This is an exciting day for all of us because, for the first time in over 50 years, there’s free skating at MLK Park,” said Mayor Byron W. Brown, who did not get on the ice.
Siblings Chaston and Gabrielle Wallace were enjoying themselves so much, it was hard getting them off.
“I like gliding on the ice,” said 9-year-old Chaston.
Chaston and Gabrielle, 11, learned to skate in 2012 through a program sponsored by the Buffalo Sabres at True Bethel Baptist Church, which their family attends.
The Sabres Foundation donated ice hockey gear and some free lessons by professional players.
Chaston and Gabrielle also took advantage of free skating sessions at Rotary Rink in Fountain Plaza downtown.
“We used walkers at first,” she said.
Fourteen-year-old Courtland Renford was a little nervous at first about getting back on skates after several years.
A few minutes later, he was part of a four-person conga line on ice skates.
He was even more excited to find out the rink would be open until 5 p.m. Sunday.
“I’m gonna stay out here all day,” he said with a smile.
Weather permitting, the ice rink will be open through March from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from noon to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
About 400 pairs of ice skates were donated through a partnership with BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York and Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Brown said. The used ice skates will be lent out for free.
The debut of the ice rink at MLK Park was welcome news for the Sullivans, who live in the city.
“It’s awesome. It’s great to have a rink right here,” said Jackie, adding that Riley’s first time out on the ice was at Leisure Rinks in West Seneca.
The ice rink encompasses about 100 feet of the 5-acre concrete basin that holds the splash pad, officials said. They wanted to start out with a smaller section to iron out any kinks.
“This is the first season. We want to see how it works,” said Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak.
The splash pad itself was expected to open in 2012, but a flurry of construction delays held up the debut until May 2013.
Seven months later, at least one crack, more than 12 feet long, was visible in the concrete basin’s outer ring.
The concrete, which hadn’t been used in Western New York before, was touted as “super crack-resistant” and was poured to last for 50 years.
A “dramatically” reduced number of joints to save money is the reason officials gave for the cracks.
At Sunday’s ice rink debut, community activist Samuel A. Herbert, a nearby resident who is chairman of the Coalition to Save Martin Luther King Park and frequent critic of the project, tempered his enthusiasm with some dismay because he was not invited to participate in the dedication.
The park, formerly known as Humboldt Park or the Parade, is near Fillmore Avenue and Best Street.
During inclement weather, call 838-1249, Ext. 17, for a message indicating whether the rink is open or closed.