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Skaters and hockey enthusiasts want ice rink to thrive

Lisa and Elizabeth Stephens hold hands as they glide across the ice at the Arthur Tilton Ice Rink in Gilford. The Stephens enjoyed the facility and said they hope it will be around for years to come. Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)
January 06, 2010
Skaters and hockey players swarmed the Arthur Tilton Ice Rink last Friday, enjoying the fresh air and exercise as they glided along the smooth, icy surface. The facility, located on Varney Point Road, has been under scrutiny as the Parks and Recreation Commission is debating whether to continue maintaining the rink or close it after this season.

Volunteers stepped up this fall to spruce up the rink in the hopes that it will continue to offer outdoor recreation for years to come.

Gilford Selectman Kevin Hayes said he has heard many comments recently about the skating rink and a lot of people have come forward to volunteer their time at the facility.

"We hope to come up with a plan to keep it open as a free skating rink," he said last Friday.

The biggest obstacle has been the development of indoor ice rinks such as Laconia Ice Arena, which attract a lot of skaters. These indoor arenas, however, don't have as much free skate time available as the Gilford outdoor rink, Hayes pointed out, and he hoped that usage of the facility will pick up this year.

"This was built with federal funds and it's a public rink open to everyone. I think a lot of folks think it is for Gilford residents only, but it's not. Anyone can use it," Hayes said.

The prospect of the outdoor arena closing next year is distressing to some skaters. Bill and Carol Hardy live in Salem but also have a second home in Bridgewater and come down to Gilford a couple of times each winter to enjoy the site. Bill was pleased with the way the ice was maintained and said they have been telling others about the rink.

"I'd be so disappointed if it closed," said Carol Hardy. "It's nice to be outside like this, and I don't feel comfortable skating on the lakes. I hope they keep it."

Lisa Stephens and her children Nick and Elizabeth traveled to Gilford with the Hardys, and though it was their first trip to the ice rink, they agreed it's an asset to the area.

"It's a beautiful, nice safe spot to go skating. Even if they charged a small fee, something reasonable to maintain it, it would be worth it," Lisa said.

Others skating last week echoed those sentiments, saying they would be sad to see the rink close next year. Lynne and Bob Johnson and family have a seasonal home in the area and said they enjoy skating there every time they come to the Lakes Region.

"I think this is the best thing," Bob Johnson said. "You don't see a rink like this anywhere."

The Gilet family members were also concerned about losing a place where three generations of their family have grown up skating and playing hockey. Though they live in Chelmsford, Mass., they spend a lot of time in Gilford and make the rink a part of each winter's visits.

"This place is great and means a lot to our family. Dad, myself and the kids have all learned to skate here. We got a pick-up game of hockey going today with people we never knew, so it's certainly a friendly place to come," said Bill Gilet.

With unsafe ice on the lakes still, the rink is the only outdoor location to skate and play hockey right now. Bleachers allow spectators a place to sit and watch the action, too. While many may come to partake in the fun, most people said they never found the ice too crowded, which made it all the more pleasurable.

Hayes said it will be some time before a decision is made. The selectmen will await a report from the Parks and Recreation Commission, probably in the spring. They will hear their recommendation and then act accordingly. In the meantime, he hopes that others will see the importance of keeping the rink open and that more volunteers will come forward to help.

"We'll have to wait and see how the season goes this year and what the costs are," he said.

The rink is open seven days a week from dawn until dusk. Open skate starts at dawn and ends at 10 a.m. as hockey for children 13 and under runs until noon. From noon until 3:30 p.m. open skating is offered once again and at 3:30 p.m. the ice is reserved for hockey players ages 14 and up, running until dusk. The rink is also available for private skate parties, and arrangements for those events can be made by calling 527-4722.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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