Skating on South Branch open at Curry Park

An outdoor rink at Curry Park opened last week, just in time for the Family Day weekend. The initiative was spearheaded by local resident Herb Cloutier, who remembers skating on the South Branch all the time when he was a child. “The last 15 or 20 years or more, nothing’s been done with our waterfront in the wintertime,” he says. “It was my idea to bring it back.”

Herb brought the idea to council at the end of last year, asking for the municipality’s support and a $8,962 community grant to get it going. Council was extremely supportive and not only approved the grant, but instructed staff to work with Herb and his small team of volunteers to get the rink open for this season. “I think our message this evening in COVID times is, if the weather is conducive, we’d like to see it happen,” Mayor Peckford said at their February 2 budget meeting.

Once the Community Grants budget was passed, municipal staff and volunteers mobilized quite quickly to get the rink open this year. A 60ft by 200ft patch of ice was cleared last Monday at the boat launch in Curry Park, and they were able to measure an ice thickness of 13 inches last week. Director of Parks and Recreation, Mark Guy, says they are comfortable with this measurement, and that staff will be performing periodic ice thickness inspections. “When we feel the ice is unsafe to use, we will post a closed sign at the location and use our social media platforms to spread the message.”

Herb Cloutier and Dwain Taylor getting ready to flood the rink last Wednesday evening

All last week, Herb and a few other dedicated volunteers were out flooding the ice to make the best possible surface for skaters. Herb has also organized a port-a-potty, a shack for putting on skates, and lighting at the park, so that people can still skate at night. “I’m so impressed with the way this came together,” he says, adding that he really appreciated the enthusiasm from council and the support of municipal staff.

While there are no special events planned for this year due to COVID-19, Herb has big plans to make the rink even larger and bring a winter carnival to the South Branch next year. For now, the rink will be open for as long as the weather holds and it is safe to be on the river. “It’s just a very casual go down and have some exercise, have some fun, and enjoy what we can for the remainder of this window that we have,” he says.

Helmets are mandatory on the ice surface, and masks must be worn in the shack while putting on skates and when physical distancing is not a possibility.

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