As the season’s first big freeze descended on the region this week, Niagara County workers began laying the groundwork for outdoor ice skating, flooding two large rinks each in Bond Lake Park in Lewiston and Krull Park in Olcott.
Opportunities will soon abound -- if Mother Nature cooperates -- for outdoor skating throughout the county.
Meanwhile, consistently cold ground temperatures are not a concern for the Lewiston Family Ice Rink, located in Academy Park on Center Street, which opened Dec. 2 and is expected to stay open at least through Jan. 9. The rink is boosted by a chiller unit.
Elsewhere around the county, municipalities that create outdoor rinks are watching the thermometers. Officials in North Tonawanda and Pendleton agreed that it will probably be around Jan. 1 before their rinks are up and running.
“Skating outside makes the hot chocolate taste better,” said Jeffrey Gaston, director of buildings and grounds for Niagara County, which owns Bond Lake and Krull parks.
“We have two rinks at each park, one for hockey and one for recreational skating,” he said. “But we need consistently cold ground temperatures, so it will probably be after January 1 when we have ice. Our rinks have 3- to 4-inch thick ice. Our guys recoat the rinks every night with water before they go home.
“Last year, we struggled to make ice because of the weather, but (Niagara County) Legislator (John) Syracuse wants us to be ready for this year,” Gaston said. Syracuse chairs the Legislature’s infrastructure and facilities committee.
Gaston said that in a good year, the rinks stay open until March. They will be staffed daily and both parks offer warming facilities and lighting for night skating. Gaston said patrons should call the county office at 439-7951 during business hours to check ice availability.
With the outdoor rink in Lewiston, due to Town of Lewiston budget constraints, the rink’s future appeared uncertain this winter. But additional funding from the Village of Lewiston, as well as sponsorships from area businesses, admission and rental fees, and rink rentals for special events have helped supplement the town’s support, according to Mike Dashineau, the town’s parks and recreation director. He added that sponsorships and donations are still gladly being accepted.
Dashineau said he plans to present a rink finance update to the Lewiston Town Board at its next meeting so it can determine whether to extend the Lewiston rink's season to around Jan. 24, which is the usual closing date. This is the rink’s sixth season.
The rink will feature some special events in coming days, including the Kids’ New Year’s Drop, from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 31, Dashineau said.
It’s jam-packed every year,” he said. “People should look for us on Facebook for special events.
“And, I encourage families to come early on Saturdays and Sundays, in the morning, or even weekdays, right after school, because those are great time for beginners,” Dashineau added. “The teenagers come in the evenings and I’m not complaining, because it gives kids something to do and that’s why we did this, but if you have a four-year-old who's just starting out, the weekend mornings are nice.”
Patricia Brosius, director of the North Tonawanda Youth, Recreation, Park and Senior Citizens department, said kids play a lot of ice hockey each winter on the rink between Cramer and East Robinson streets, even under a large streetlight when evening falls.
“But, it probably won’t be ready until after the first of the year, when the ground is frozen enough for good ice,” she said.
Town Clerk Terry Pienta said she’ll notify the public when the outdoor rink is ready in Pendleton Town Park, behind the Pendleton Historical Building.
“As soon as I get the okay, I’ll put it out front (of town hall) on the digital message board,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Town of Niagara is planning on constructing an outdoor rink in the winter of 2018.
Of course, the weather is never an issue at Niagara University’s Dwyer Arena, which offers indoor public skating, as does Niagara Falls Ice Pavilion in Hyde Park and Cornerstone Arena, in Lockport.
Bob Filighera, general manager of Cornerstone, said his arena, which boasts public skating year-round, will offer extended hours during the holiday break. The arena opened two years ago and features two NHL-sized rinks.
He said public skating will be featured later in the evening on New Year’s Eve, for example.
“We also offer discount packages for families and gift cards -- skating makes a good gift,” he added. Visit: www.cornerstonearena.com for more information.