By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — With the winter chill settling in, children are tempted to take to local ponds and lakes to go ice skating.
But it has not been cold enough yet for the ice to freeze to a safe level, so the city is offering skaters an alternative — an outdoor rink at Riverside Park.
The rink is at the lighted softball field at Riverside Park. It is free to skate there and the rink is open every day until 8 p.m., weather permitting. The lights are turned on at 4 p.m.
“It’s a safer place that freezes quicker than ponds, where you want at least 18 inches of ice,” said city Recreation Director Vincent Ouellette. “And there are no underground springs to be concerned about.”
Although winter in New England is an unpredictable thing, city officials are hopeful that this winter will be perfect for an outdoor rink. They said last winter was just too warm to even think about setting one up, while in years before that it was hit or miss.
“We’ve built rinks at various parks, including Swasey Field, 12th Avenue as well as at Riverside Park, but those rinks either never froze or stayed frozen for very long,” Ouellette said. “And the year before last, there was so much snow we would not have been able to keep up with it.”
This week, Mayor James Fiorentini announced the city opened the rink. The softball field that is home to the rink is between Trinity Stadium and the Building 19 parking lot.
Ouellette said the city spent about $3,000 in Recreation Department equipment money to buy a kit from the NiceRink company. The kit, which is expected to endure 15 seasons of use, includes a plastic liner with an edging that holds in the 2 to 5 inches of water needed to create a smooth and level skating surface.
“We hosed it down and it began freezing right after Christmas,” Ouellette said. “The snow we got ended up melting and refreezing, then we added more water on Monday.”
Skaters must bring their own skates. Hay bales have been placed near the rink to provide seating for spectators. The 24-by-80-foot rink will accommodate about 20 skaters at a time.
“Haverhill is a beautiful place in the wintertime with many things for families with children to do,” Fiorentini said. “Unfortunately, over the past few years, it has not been cold enough or safe enough to skate on our many lakes and ponds.”
Fiorentini said the new “Haverhill skates!” program provides residents outdoor skating for the first time in years.
He said there is also outdoor sledding at Winnekenni Park, where hay bales have also been placed.
“We strongly encourage parents to have their children sled in the area closest to Kenoza Avenue and to watch the children carefully,” Fiorentini said. “We want everyone to have a good time outdoors, but we want everyone to be safe.”