WELLSBURG - While sheets of ice have been plentiful throughout the Ohio Valley over the past month, none of them have been large enough to accommodate would-be hockey stars looking for a quick game or a place to practice.
Luckily, the free outdoor skating rink on the basketball court of the Betty Carr Park at the bottom of 16th Street in Wellsburg is proving to be a popular place for skaters from not only the city of Wellsburg, but other communities as well.
The rink was first set up three years ago at the urging of City Councilman Paul Billiard, who thought a free outdoor rink would give local youth something to do during the winter other than sit in front of a TV or video screen. At the time, he told council if some funds could be allocated to purchase the rink he would get everything else that was needed.
Since then, he has secured hockey nets and a variety of other needed items, including burn barrels and a hockey stick rack donated for the project.
"This year we finally brought it all together," Billiard said. "It's taken some time but it's turned out very nice. It's not just for hockey. It's a place for kids to skate."
The 40-by-80 foot outdoor rink has attracted skaters from from New Manchester, Moundsville, St. Clairsville, Wheeling and as far away as Washington, Pa. The side boards are about 22 inches high. The rink is equipped with lights and is open to the public every day from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. at no cost.
Other items which have been put on the site include benches and rubber mats for skaters to walk on.
Billiard said at night he also uses an electric torpedo heater and has hot chocolate available.
Maintenance is done regularly by a group of volunteers. Special snow plow shovels are used to keep the ice clean and smooth about every 90 minutes.
"The biggest problem we've had was keeping people off it until it was completely frozen," Billiard said. "If someone goes through the ice before it's frozen they could cut the rubber liner. Now we have to keep tweeking it. We're trying different things to make it more appealing. We want it to make it for everyone."
Billiard said in the future, the city would like to make the area a multi-use facility and use it year round for basketball, roller skating and ice skating.
"We need to get the right kind of surface. The key is having it level," he said.
The main goal, Billiard said, is exposing youngsters to ice skating, as there are few rinks and opportunities for them to skate in the area. He said thus far, that goal has been achieved.
"There are some kids using the rink now that would never have owned a pair of ice skates," he said. "For some of these kids it's as close as they will ever get to skating on a frozen pond. It's giving kids exposure to something they never had before."
Billiard said the rink is also attracting adults who are taking part in the fun. The rink is self-regulated, and he said everyone is mindful of the rules and makes an effort to keep the area safe.
He said that is indicative of the effort that has gone into making the rink successful.
"It has taken endless hours to get ready, but nobody I have asked to help has said no," Billiard said.