Burbridge can’t help but monitor what goes on at the rink because her window faces the fairgrounds’ Pig Palace, these days known as the Ice Palace, where the community can skate for free nearly every day, conditions permitting.
“This was the brainchild of John Medrick,” explained Burbridge, chuckling over how she first came to notice Medrick, the Norwood resident turned Ice Palace project coordinator. “I saw this guy walking around out there like he was casing the joint,” she said. “It was suspicious.”
It turned out, Medrick, a hockey buff with two young boys, had his eye on the Pig Palace as the perfect place for an ice rink – something he had experience building in his own back yard. With its covered concrete pad, the Pig Palace provides year-round shade and shelter, not to mention a perfectly flat spot for a slab of ice. It’s also virtually unused during the winter months. (The Pig Palace houses pigs during the annual San Miguel Basin Fair in July, as well as the Norwood Farm and Craft Market during the summer months.)
“John is the one that brought it to the attention of Norwood Parks and Recreation District,” Burbridge said. With endorsement from Parks and Rec, Medrick then worked with the county to come up with a design that was safe for skaters and protected from the elements. Norwood Parks and Rec provided $2,000 for construction of the rink, as well as the volunteer manpower to maintain the ice.
With black netting on the south and north sides to shield the ice from sunlight, the Pig Palace now hosts a 40- by 80-foot sheet of ice – made by pouring water into a special plastic ice-rink liner – surrounded by burlap-covered hay bails to cushion falls and provide rest stops. Lights allow for night skating, and bleachers provide seating. The entire rink is surrounded by metal fencing, and a gate acts as the rink’s entrance and exit. Once inside, rules and regulations and a rink calendar are posted, and a ring binder contains mandatory liability waivers. Anyone on the ice must be wearing skates, and children under 10 must wear a helmet and be accompanied by an adult.
To maintain the ice, volunteers scrape up loose ice shavings and put a new layer of ice down with a special rake. “I’ve been lovingly referring to it as the ‘Zambinee,’” said Burbridge. When there are soft spots on the ice, cones are set out to keep people off those areas.
“This initial year, it is a pilot project,” said Burbridge, noting that the county has waived its fee for use of the facility. “We didn’t know if the ice would stay frozen,” she said. In fact, with recent high temperatures getting into the 40s, the ice was “getting pretty soupy, but now it’s starting to freeze back up” she said. “It’s turned out really well. If the weather holds and we can justify” it as a worthwhile use, next year “we’ll look into getting something that’s more permanent.”
Although no formal hockey or broomball leagues have yet formed, the county is open to enabling that type of use as long as insurance liability requirements are met. The county has no plans to start a skate rental operation, said Burbridge, suggesting that, if there is enough interest year after year, maybe someone will organize a skate swap.
For now, the county is keeping it simple. “We just want to let people enjoy it first,” said Burbridge, whose own skates hang on the wall in her office for when she decides to take a few afternoon turns on the ice.
Norwood Ice Palace hours are 12-8 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 12-9 p.m., Friday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday; and 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday. Note: all skaters, whatever age, are required to sign a liability waiver, and youth under 18 need a parent to co-sign. To check the ice rink calendar for private reservations, go to the link on the sanmiguelcounty.org website. The rink is subject to closure if ice conditions are not safe, indicated by a “closed” sign on the entry gate. For more information or to volunteer, call the San Miguel County Fairgrounds at 970/327-4321.