On most every Saturday morning in the cold winter months, bundled up families and children pack onto Marbury Terrace to a little sheet of ice abutting the Orange Line tracks.
But above all, they learn to skate.
The Kelly Rink, the only state-operated outdoor rink in the Commonwealth, is celebrating its 20th year in existence this winter season – an amenity won over in a compromise between the state and a dedicated group of JP neighbors in 1999. Now, though it isn’t getting as much general public use as it did a few years back, few would know that on a Saturday morning.
The Friends of the Kelly Rink have run a successful Learn to Skate program there since 2004-2005, and Friend Steven Glickel – a retired teacher and long-time JP resident – said they have about 180 kids and adults signed up for this year’s version of Learn to Skate.
“What has happened is the Kelly Rink is a great resource for the community,” said Glickel. “That’s good for us because there would be no rental skates or no Learn to Skate programming. It’s tough to do programming here because the rink is small. But it is the only outdoor rink in the state run by DCR (Department of Conservation and Recreation) and they do a great job keeping it open for us…We think that skating is a great activity. I think that 100 percent. It gives people something to do in the winter that is active and outdoors.”
The Learn to Skate program, as well as the very affordable skate rental shack, is run in partnership with the Friends, the DCR and Ferris Wheels Bike Shop. It is the largest program at the rink, and in reality, the only program. It started when the Friends found two experienced figure skaters that lived in JP and were willing to take over the program. That was enhanced when they got a grant to supplement the program from the U.S. Figure Skating Association. Since that time, the skates have been flying off the shelves, and the ice has been cut up by kids and adults taking on the pastime – a pastime that is growing more popular these days as people try to find ways to be active in Boston’s long winters.
JP resident Kristina Tobey wholeheartedly agrees.
Having lived in JP for several years, she and her husband didn’t even know the rink existed for a long time. However, they discovered it a few years back and now have their kinds involved in Learn to Skate.
She said if it was ever threatened with closure, they would fight for it.
“We live right up the road so the proximity cannot be beat,” she said. “It’s really affordable, and that is one reason our family has done the lessons the last two years. We have loved it; the teachers are great and having the kids learn to skate is fantastic. The rink is really accessible to everyone and you see people from the community. In the winter, people hibernate a lot, so coming out here kind of reunites everyone.
“I think it should stay here,” she continued. “I would fight for it if they wanted to take it away again. I would definitely fight for that.”
Having the rink is a real amenity for JP, as there are really no other skating opportunities in the areas of Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, the South End or Mission Hill. Many years ago, the Melnea Cass Rink in Roxbury was dismantled, and was never re-opened as an ice rink. The nearest state-owned rink otherwise would be in Brookline or West Roxbury – too far of a journey just for casual skating.
That brings one to the history of the Kelly Rink – which is about as important to know as how to get up on skates.
The Kelly Rink for decades existed on the Jamaicaway by Daisy Field. It was a full-scale indoor rink that supported public skating, hockey teams and youth sports. In 1992, for reasons still not entirely known, the state decided to close the rink down. The promise to the community was always that they would re-build the old one, but that promise seemed to slip away.
One day in 1997, as several youth sports advocates were coaching baseball for the Regan League, they saw bulldozers moving in to tear down the old Kelly Rink. That spawned protests, a complete shutdown of the Jamaicaway by adults and youth, and years of fighting by advocates like Glickel, Bill Allan, Michael Frank, Virginia Clifford, Tom O’Malley and Margaret Noce – a group that now forms the Board of the Friends group.
Those protests and that advocacy eventually made a difference, and using vacant MBTA land next to the Orange Line, the Marbury Terrace temporary rink was put in place.
Twenty years later, it has become much more permanent than anyone ever believed.
The DCR invested $925,000 to rebuild the Rink in 2009, putting down a new ice slab, refridgeration piping, new dasher boards and three new support buildings that serve as a skate shop and a warming center. Before the start of this skating season, the DCR replaced the refridgeration equipment at a cost of $270,000.
The state said it is a unique facility because of the outdoor aspect. Because it is outdoors, weather plays a key role in the operations. If it’s too warm, it might have to shut down. If there is a ton of snow, that has to be shoveled and removed.
That is well-known to Rink Managers Dave Fabiano and Tom Bowen, who started out working at the Kelly Rink in 1999, and returned in 2014 – just in time for the worst winter on record in 2015.
“We’re always down here and we’re open,” Bowen said. “When we had all of that snow, we got the snow out and opened the next day every time. We were open every day after those storms. Just a day’s work.”
The Rink sees about 300 visitors per week, which is a good number, but a considerable drop-off from a few years ago.
Glickel said they’re trying to figure out why fewer people are taking advantage of the public skate time, but don’t exactly know why.
“The rink used to be crazy and packed a few years ago, especially on a Friday or Saturday evening, but for the last two years the usage has dropped off,” he said. “We really don’t know why. We’re trying to figure it out. Maybe people forgot about us. We encourage people to show up and thank the state for keeping this open for us.”
Aside from the public, several public schools and the YMCA are regular visitors with large groups, as well as local church groups and day care centers.
However, one fact does remain 20 years out from the Kelly Rink opening. That fact is that the Rink was to be temporary.
While Glickel is happy to see the outdoor rink in operation and used, he also said the Friends would like to also see a full indoor DCR rink facility in JP so kids could learn to play hockey and there could be figure skating lessons year-round. That dream came close to happening when Urban Edge and the state had proposed a semi-public rink in the Jackson Square area. That idea gathered much excitement, but ended up fizzling out last summer as costs soared.
Now, the Friends are left with an outdoor rink that is nice, but also dream for something more permanent like is seen in Dorchester, West Roxbury, East Boston and Hyde Park.
“Our dream was and still is to have an indoor facility,” said Glickel. “The kids in the community would love to learn to play hockey and learn to figure skate while staying in the neighborhood. We would love to see English High have a hockey team and win a state championship here in JP. That was our dream. We’ve been at it 27 years.”
The Kelly Rink operates from early December through the first week of March, and it is weather-dependent. The skating hours are noon to 7 p.m. seven days a week, and skates are available to rent for a very affordable price. Residents with skates are welcome to bring their own and use them. Helmets are advised.
To get involved in the Friends of the Kelly Rink, e-mail them at [email protected]