gliding through the pandemic: residents find themselves on the ice
BY VICTORIA PETERSEN
In the depths of winter, and a global pandemic, Anchorage residents are using public ice rinks and frozen ponds to stay connected with friends and family and get out of the house.
Anchorage’s Parks and Recreation Department received $3 million of the COVID-19 federal relief money — allocated to address spruce bark beetle hazards in city trees, ice rink maintenance and trail maintenance — to meet growing demand for skiing and skating opportunities within the city.
“With a desire to keep people spread out for safety and give our community options to stay active during the pandemic, opening and creating more ice space was a logical step,” Erin Kirkland, community engagement coordinator for Anchorage Parks and Recreation, said via email.
Many residents have been trying ice skating for the first time, or for the first time in many years. Mayowa Aina, a local reporter, was given a pair of skates by a coworker. Growing up in Washington, there were some indoor ice-skating rinks around where she skated once or twice, but generally, ice skating was not a big part of her life. “This winter, I was like, ‘I’m going to get out there,’” Aina said. “I want to try it. Everybody seems to be (ice skating), especially with the pandemic, there’s not much else to do.” Earlier this winter, she did a couple of laps at Westchester Lagoon. She said she’s planning to go ice skating again soon and hopes to get better. Allison Heaslet said she hadn’t hit the ice in two or three years but decided this winter she would change that. She said she made new friends who enjoyed ice skating, and that it was an activity to do socially distanced. She said she has taken advantage of the city’s-maintained rinks and ponds but has also ventured out to Rabbit Slough and Eklutna Lake. She is currently waiting for a pair of Nordic skates to arrive. “Nordic skating has become an exciting point of adventure,” Heaslet said. “I’m able to go farther, faster, and it’s way easier to go places that aren’t mopped, which is good for social distancing.”
The city strives for daily hot-mops and snow removal by their crews, Kirkland said. In addition to maintaining already existing public rinks and ponds, the city has also partnered with the school district to maintain eight rinks across the municipality. Some rinks at schools have been open in past years, but usually they are maintained by PTAs or volunteer groups, Kirkland said. This year, local contractors are maintaining the rinks for public use.
Kirkland said the department knows trails and parks have been busy, and that they are curious to know how residents’ habits have changed during the pandemic. To better understand the impacts on parks, the department is launching a survey to gauge residents on their public parks and trail use. The survey, which can be accessed online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/parks_covid, is anonymous and available until Feb. 19. The data collected from the survey will be used to further adapt and improve services for the community.
The Anchorage Downtown Partnership has also opened up a small ice-skating area in Town Square, which hasn’t been seen by residents in recent years. The public use rink is maintained through private donations. Anchorage Parks and Rec maintains ice rinks at Tikishla Park, the Delaney Park Strip, Cuddy Family Midtown Park pond, Chanshtnu Muldoon Park skating ribbon, Cheney Lake and Westchester Lagoon. The city also contracts Alpine Services to maintain the Cuddy Family Midtown Park speed skating oval and the Mulcahy hockey rinks. The Anchorage School District rinks that are open to the public are located at Airport Heights Elementary School, Bowman Elementary School, Creekside Elementary School, Klatt Elementary School, Lake Hood Elementary School, Scenic Park Elementary School, Taku Elementary School and Fire Lake Elementary School.
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