Maggie Daley Park’s signature ice skating ribbon and children’s playground — featuring that little castle you see off Lake Shore Drive — will be open to the public for the first time Saturday.
Beginning at 11:30 a.m., up to 700 people will be able to skate on the new ribbon — a quarter-mile loop around the north end of the 20-acre, $60 million park. The admission is free, but skates will cost you $12 to rent. Skating aficionados are allowed to bring their own skates.
“It’s like skating on a creek in the city,” said Bob O’Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy. “It meanders around the park, on the north end, among the pine trees. It’ll feel very woodsy.”
The temperature will rise to a balmy 45 degrees on Saturday, and up to 51 degrees on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.
But Chicago Park District spokeswoman Kiera Ellis said the ribbon will still be open despite the warmer-than-usual temperature. Crews will evaluate the ice once the temperature reaches 50 degrees.
“The refrigerated slab allows us to keep the ice-skating ribbon open even when temperatures are above freezing,” Ellis said in an email. “It is only when we reach the mid-50s that we would need to begin evaluating the condition of the ice. A lot of factors contribute to the ice condition, including solar load, wind, humidity and precipitation.”
The park, bordered on the west by Columbus, the north by Randolph, the south by Monroe and the east by Lake Shore Drive, has been closed to the public since construction started in August 2012.
On Saturday, people will be able to come into the park, rent skates at a newly renovated fieldhouse and skate on the ribbon.
A children’s playground — a three-acre play garden — will also be open for the first time, featuring a collection of slides and an “enchanted forest.”
“Slide Crater” will include a twisting spiral and a slide that can fit two kids side-by-side. Another one is a whopping 30-foot drop from the top to bottom.
The playground also features Geo-foam created hills, picnic tables and 1,400 trees.
“The trees that had been removed [from Daley Bicentennial Plaza] have been dried and preserved upside down. They’re these big structures, turned upside down, like an enchanted forest area for kids,” O’Neill said. “You get a feel that you’re in a completely different area, and it’s like a little bit of a vacation.”
So what’s left before the park’s big opening in the spring? There’s a giant mound of soil that has been stored in Peanut Park, just east of Maggie Daley Park. That will be used to plant vegetation in the spring. The spring will also see the opening of a climbing wall and paths for bicyclists and joggers.
Maggie Daley Park will also feature a restaurant at the very south end of Monroe and vendors throughout the park, according to O’Neill. The winning bid for the restaurant has not yet been selected.