Warmer winters causing concerns to outdoor ice rinks across New England

Warmer winters causing concerns to outdoor ice rinks across New England

Skating outdoors has long been a New England tradition, but now it’s running into trouble as some outdoor rinks are facing challenges just to stay open.

George O’Brien of Mansfield savors days when he can get out on the ice with his buddies and play hockey. “It’s a lot harder to find places that are frozen because it’s not cold this winter at all. We’ve been having to go indoors to places like the Walpole rink, places like Norfolk. It just stinks.”

On this day, he was able to skate at the Yardley-Wood rink, a landmark in Easton for more than 50 years.

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This facility is free to use and is operated by the Easton Lions Club.

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Now, it’s struggling to survive as warmer winters have reduced the number of days it can open. The rink has no cooling capacity.

The rink received most of its operating funds thru a concession stand, but that source of revenue has dried up as the rink’s schedule has become more erratic.

Bill Palmer, who oversees operations at the rink, added "8-10 years ago it was opened for the entire school vacation, and the snack bar was opened both weekends and they made about $5,000. But we haven’t been able to sell anything in the snack bar in five years because most of the time we just get to open for one day."

The number of winter days at or below freezing in this area has been steadily declining since record keeping began in 1972. Data from the National Weather Service shows that the last three winters in Boston all ranked among the warmest over the previous 20 years.

The Jack Kirrane Ice Skating Rink at Larz Anderson Park in Brookline just updated its cooling system in time for this system. "That is really a response to the changing weather and it being warmer and more difficult for us to get quality ice," said Michael Bartlett, operations manager for parks and open space.

The town added an additional header which allows for brine to be to more widely removed under the surface of the ice when it gets warm, and then replaced with cooler liquid. “It really comes down to the thermodynamics of how we get the heat off the ice and cool it down,” explained Bartlett.

Historically, the rink opened around Thanksgiving, but that’s been pushed back a couple of weeks in recent years.

Brookline town officials are grateful they could make the investment to keep the rink a vibrant recreational outlet. “It would be a great loss to the community, not only for the public skaters, but we have youth hockey programs up here as well," said Bartlett. "We have a learn to skate program on the weekends, so all those opportunities are lost."

Leigh Jackson, acting director of recreation, added, “It’s part of the culture. It’s part of what we do here in New England. We are hearty people, we like to be outside enjoying ourselves in a family friendly activity like ice skating.”

The Brookline rink, which has some beautiful views of Boston, is also open to non-residents. It will be operating until March 3rd.

The Yardley-Wood rink operates on a day to day basis.