EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 6, 2013

Delays in ponds freezing lures skaters to outdoor rink

Surfaces of ponds, lakes to remain unsafe as temperatures rise

By Bill Cantwell

---- — HAVERHILL — It’s likely to be a while before the city’s lakes and ponds are frozen enough for skating, ice fishing and other activities.

Vincent Ouellette, human services director for the city, said safety officials have been checking the thickness of the ice on those bodies of water, but they are not yet safe.

Ouellette said with the expected arrival of warmer weather, there will be a further delay in the freezing of those surfaces.

Harbormaster Michael Vets regularly measures the thickness of the ice and determines when it is safe.

In the meantime, residents are taking advantage of the outdoor ice skating rink built by the city at Riverside Park next to Trinity Stadium, Ouellette said.

A steady stream of people has been skating at the rink, which the city built last week by using a $3,000 kit. The kit is expected to last more than a decade, city officials said. The rink is open to skaters free from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with overhead lights operating during the evening hours. The surface is only a few inches thick, so there is no danger of skaters falling through.

“People have been taking advantage of it,’’ said Ouellette, who also directs recreation programs for the city.

The city built the outdoor rink to give residents a safe place to ice skate until the ponds and lakes freeze. The rink is big enough for about 20 people to skate there at the same time, but Ouellette said most people skate for relatively short periods of time, so there is no overcrowding.

If this winter is anything like last year, there will be little outdoor skating except for at that rink. Because of last winter’s unusually mild temperatures, the lakes and ponds did not freeze sufficiently for skating and other activities. The city had to cancel its annual fishing derby on Plug Pond.

Ouellette said it can often take until February for Haverhill’s lakes and ponds to freeze to a safe thickness.

Indoor public skating is also available at the city’s Veterans Memorial Rink behind the high school Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 2 p.m.

Ouellette said the higher temperatures expected this weekend could hamper skating at the outdoor rink by thawing the surface.

“It depends on how warm it gets,’’ he said. “It’s supposed to be in the 40s.’’

If the rink’s surface does thaw, a return of lower temperatures will allow it to refreeze quickly because it is only a few inches thick.