By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — Every year once the ground begins to freeze, Richard Gale and a handful of other local residents gather at Amesbury Town Park with a big hose and a grand vision.
Over the course of a few days, the volunteers flood an 80-by-160-foot portion of the park with water and let the cold winter air do the rest, transforming the area into a free skating rink available for all residents to use.
“We’ve been doing it for six or seven years,” Gale said. “We had to wait for cold weather and the ground has to freeze because there is no liner underneath it, it’s just right on the ground.”
The recent run of cold weather provided the perfect opportunity for the group to set up this year’s rink, and now Gale said he’s hoping the whole community comes out and takes advantage after an unusually warm winter cut last year’s skating season short.
“It’s open,” Gale said. “There’s no grand opening, it’s available and we want people to use it.”
Funded by the Carriage Museum, of which Gale is an active member, the rink sits in the triangle of land between Highland Street, Greenleaf Street and Friend Street surrounded by pine trees and homemade flags. The rink also features recently renovated overhead lights that illuminate the rink for skaters at night.
“It’s lit until about 9:30 at night,” Gale said. “We put the lights in and brought the soil, because the water is just held in by a little [slope]. You can see it on the edge of the ice, and that’s all that holds the water in.”
Because the rink sits on top of solid ground, there is no risk of skaters falling through the ice into freezing cold water. The location also makes cleanup in the spring a simple proposition, because once the ice melts, the water just runs off into the ground.
“Normally we get to the end of February with it,” Gale said. “Last year it probably melted by the middle of January; it was a short season last year.”
During skating season, the volunteers actively maintain the rink, resurfacing the area with fresh ice several nights a week, patching holes and clearing off snow when necessary.
In the beginning, the group even had its own zamboni — sort of.
“We used a three-quarter-inch garden hose, we hooked it to a piece of plastic pipe that went down into a T about four feet wide, and it had holes in it,” Gale said. “We’d drag it across slowly and it would leave a film of water on [the surface]. You could really get great ice.”
Now the group uses a big, 2-inch fire hose and just floods the whole rink. It’s quicker and works just as well, Gale said.
So far, Gale said he hasn’t seen too many people using the rink, but noted one instance last weekend when he saw a group of about a dozen adults playing hockey with one another.
“Big guys,” Gale said. “Much bigger than you and I.”
Playing amongst the adults was a single child decked out in Boston Bruins gear. He was small enough that he could have skated between the adults’ legs if he had wanted to, but he was holding his own and even scored a couple of goals.
Scenes like that make putting the rink together worth the trouble, Gale said.