NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — If the beaches in Narragansett get too packed this summer, why not try some outdoor ice skating?
It’s now possible, thanks to a new artificial rink the town built over several months at the Parks and Recreation department property on Clarke Road. Officials, residents and business leaders who provided funding for the work celebrated the rink’s opening on May 23.
“Is this unbelievable or what,” Peg Fredette, manager of the Narragansett Chamber of Commerce, said to a cheering crowd at Sunday’s opening.
It was a sunny, hot day, great for skaters like Aiden Plaziak and his younger brother Rory to lace up and glide along the “ice,” which is actually a special material that simulates real ice as much as possible. It’s not cold, though, and it never melts.
Aiden, 13, said he plans to use the rink all summer. He’s skated for a couple of years.
“It’s a little less glide than regular ice, but it’s still really nice,” he said.
Joe Vingi had to come try it out himself. He’s played hockey his whole life and has college-aged children that play.
“It’s very beautiful, especially being outside in Narragansett,” he said. “Hockey’s our thing.”
The rink is built of dozens of pieces of flat, grayish interconnecting “puzzle pieces” that can be added to in the future if funds allow, Fredette said. Each “puzzle piece” costs about $4,000. It’s built atop the former site of the Camp JORI swimming pool.
The rink idea came together pretty quick, and the coronavirus contributed in an indirect way.
Early this year, the chamber took unused state “Take it Outside” grant money to help fund the purchase and donate the rink to the town.
Initially, Fredette applied for a grant to take all the chamber’s holiday fair events that normally happen inside and move them outside. The chamber got $50,000, started planning and then learned from the state that the fair could not be held due to COVID-19. That left about $22,000 in unspent funds.
Discussion of the ice rink has been taking place for years. Fredette, a resident for 40 years, remembers when the town used to have a small skating rink. She especially wanted to recapture that magical experience.
Former town council member Jill Lawler suggested to Fredette that she could use the unspent money on the long-planned rink. The chamber board agreed, and the wheels were set in motion.
“I made some phone calls, did some last minute negotiating, I begged a little bit,” Fredette said.
The chamber approached Town Manager Jim Tierney and Parks and Recreation Director Steve Wright about buying the rink for use at town events and by local groups.
“This is a community effort. Isn’t this a great spot,” Wright said. “This is going to bring a lot of pleasure to a lot of families in the town.”
Fredette also credited community members and more than two dozen businesses with raising $50,000 in a fundraising drive over the last several months.
“The checks started coming in, $20 here, $100 there. It was an amazing effort,” she said. “I thought maybe this rink would sit in the parks and rec garage for years before we could afford to do it.”
Another former councilor, Rick Lema, provided help with getting cement footing and an apron for the site. The town’s Department of Public Works provided crushed stone.
Resident Al Alba said the ice skating rink was the realization of a dream of his father, Al Alba Sr., who passed away last year. The senior Alba was a WWII and Korean War veteran and well-known local businessman.
“He advocated for this for years,” Alba said.