By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — The city has plenty of lakes and ponds to skate on, but sometimes thin ice gets in the way.
Haverhill has set up an outdoor rink at Riverside Park next to Trinity Stadium.
City officials said local ponds and lakes that froze during the recent cold snap have been attracting skaters, but when temperatures fluctuate, there are safety concerns.
The outdoor rink offers a safe alternative because it freezes quicker than ponds, which need at least 6 to 9 inches of ice, said city Recreation Director Vincent Ouellette.
“And there are no underground springs to be concerned about,’’ he said.
The rink is open to the public every day until 8 p.m., weather permitting, and it’s lighted.
Ouellette said the city planned to open the rink at the beginning of December, but due to warm temperatures followed by a snowstorm, it was impossible to set it up until two weeks ago.
Ouellette said the city spent about $3,000 in Recreation Department equipment money in December 2012 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.
But it doesn’t end with just setting up the rink. Ouellette said it requires frequent maintenance. Situations that arose last year included frozen footprints across the surface of the rink after a thaw followed by a freeze.
“I went down there with a hose and flooded the area to make it smooth again,” Ouellette said. “And when we had light snow, it created a frost-covered surface that wasn’t smooth to skate on. So we added more water and it became smooth to skate on again.”
The rink is at the park’s lighted softball field. 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 5 p.m. The softball field is between the stadium and the Riversedge Plaza parking lot.
Skaters must bring their own skates. Hay bales have been placed near the rink to provide seating for spectators or for visitors to lace up skates. The 24-by-80-foot rink can accommodate about 20 skaters at a time.