SKOWHEGAN — It’s finally cold enough for the town’s outdoor skating rink to open, nearly three weeks after its scheduled opening date.

That’s the news from Skowhegan Parks and Recreation Director Denise LeBlanc, rink master Stephen McDaniel and others this week as overnight temperatures dipped into the teens.

The Ice Rink in the Coliseum at the Skowhegan State Fairgrounds is scheduled to open for the season at 4 p.m. Thursday for free public skating under the lights, seven days a week. The rink was scheduled to open Jan. 2, but warm weather forced the later opening date.

“It’s got it’s own uniqueness to it. It’s one of a kind, that’s for sure,” McDaniel said of the regulation-size rink with plywood sideboards and a funky trailer that serves as a warming hut and food concession. “You look out there and you see the old buildings of the fairgrounds, so it’s actually pretty cool.”

It also has its own vintage 1987 Zamboni to smooth the ice.

The rink, which is at the fairgrounds’ Beech Street entrance, is open on four sides and covered by the Coliseum roof. It’s tucked away at the far end of the fairgrounds, which on Wednesday was a windswept snowscape where in August the midway blasts hot and loud with rides, games and fair food.

During fair time, the Coliseum is the place for horse and tractor pulling events, barrel racing, steer and oxen shows and woodsmen events.

LeBlanc said the rink is provided by the Skowhegan Fair Association at no cost to the town.

“It was there long before my time, and I’ve been here 27 years,” she said. “It’s been there 30-plus years.”

Features at the Skowhegan Ice Rink include free family skating after school from 4 to 7 p.m., four days a week, with skating 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays and 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Saturday skating is from noon until 7 p.m.

There is adult hockey Tuesday and Thursday nights until 9 p.m. and Rock & Skate night from 5 to 7 p.m. Fridays with music from radio stations chosen by participants. LeBlanc advises visitors to bring their own skates. A rink supervisor is on duty at all times, she said.

There also are developmental and learning programs for all ages and a Stick & Puck youth hockey program.

McDaniel, a former Skowhegan Area High School football and basketball player who graduated in 2008, said he started working for the recreation department when he was 15. He later graduated from Thomas College with a degree in sports management and is now head of maintenance for the department.

McDaniel said said the rink fills with more than 100 skaters on any given Saturday.

“It’s very popular. It’s a great thing for the town,” he said Wednesday. “It’s just great for the kids. It’s something to do in the winter. Everybody loves a night skate under the lights.”

Skowhegan joins other local communities in offering free public skating.

In neighboring Madison, Town Manager Tim Curtis was out with his snowblower on Monday, clearing the rink on the site of the former Weston Avenue School.

“I had some time on Monday because it was Martin Luther King Day, so I took my John Deere tractor out there and thought I’d take my turn volunteering,” Curtis said. “We’ve some good weather to make ice this week. The recreation department should be making ice this week, and we’ll be ready to skate by next week.”

In Winslow, the Parks and Recreation Department opened its outdoor skating rink on Daniels Street between Winslow High School and Winslow Junior High, on Jan. 9. It’s open seven days a week until 7 p.m. and is free to the public.

In Waterville, there is no city-operated ice skating rink, Parks and Recreation Director Matt Skehan said. He said the Alfond Youth Center offers free public skating outside next to the main building on North Street.

“It’s something that we’re real interested in to get going on, but there just hasn’t been enough energy around it just yet,” Skehan said of a municipal skating facility. He said he is “very aware of the history” of the outdoor South End Arena on Summer Street, which operated from 1946 to 1990.

“I’m very anxious to get things going again, but we need someone to step up and lead the charge on outdoor ice, like substantial, not just a little thrown-together rink, but a real outdoor ice situation here,” he said.

Patrick Garrett, program director at the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA of Greater Waterville at the Alfond Youth Center, said the small 40-by-80-foot rink has been in operation during three of the last four winters for free public skating. It didn’t open last winter.

“Kids come out and skate on it and play hockey basically every day after school until about 9 at night, when we shut the lights off,” Garrett said.

He said Bert Languet, president of Central Maine Youth Hockey, has been the driving force of setting up the rink.

“It’s pretty popular — every day,” Garrett said of the Alfond outdoor rink. “Actually, we were just joking because there’s a couple of kids out there right now and they should be in school, we’re thinking, unless they have an early release day that we don’t know about.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow


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