A group of ice skating and hockey enthusiasts in Wicker Park might be the only Chicagoans hoping that Mother Nature’s midweek cold snap will hold through the weekend.
If everything goes as planned, or forecast, a free ice skating rink in Wicker Park’s namesake park could open as soon as Sunday.
Named “WickerICE,” the 60-by-120-foot nonrefrigerated rink is funded by donations and maintained by a small army of volunteers in partnership with the Chicago Park District.
A small crowd gathered to watch as the rink was filled with water Saturday by Chicago firefighters.
“We love the rink. We went as many times as we could last winter, and this winter we are going to put skates on our 1-year-old,” said Wicker Park resident Nicole Eisler, who, with her husband and their two children, watched the rink get filled.
Nicole Eisler’s husband, Matt Eisler, co-owner of Heisler Hospitality, which operates bars and restaurants Queen Mary, Pub Royale and others, played hockey in the Calgary Flames organization.
The rink’s policy is “skate at your own risk,” with helmets recommended for beginners and required for those playing pickup games or participating in stick and puck drills.
There is no skate rental, so skaters need to bring their own.
The park field house will be open during the rink’s hours of operation, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, as a warming space and for restrooms. The rink and the field house will be closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
WickerICE’s third season will officially begin once the ice is properly frozen, which takes four consecutive days of below-freezing temperatures.
Temperatures in the Chicago area are expected to plunge this week. After climbing into the 60s on Monday, the National Weather Service expects high temperatures of 35 degrees on Tuesday then between 32 and 26 degrees through Sunday.
In the rink’s inaugural season, the Eislers donated a golf cart to use like a Zamboni to resurface the ice, but it was too difficult to store the golf cart in the field house. Volunteers ended up devising an ice resurfacing contraption using a garbage can, PVC pipe and a towel.
Nick Gecan, a member of the WickerICE volunteer committee and a longtime resident, said it takes about an hour to resurface the rink.
“When it’s finished, it is so beautiful to see the mirror-like finish. It’s especially beautiful when all the surrounding homes turn on their holiday lights and the park fountain’s lights come on. Truly a winter wonderland,” Gecan said.
Things to know
Where: Wicker Park’s park, 1425 N. Damen Ave. The rink is in the softball field, about a half-block south of the Damen and Wicker Park Avenues intersection.
Getting there: Free non-metered street parking is available in the 1400 block of North Damen Avenue, as well as the 1400-1500 blocks of Wicker Park Avenue and the 1900 block of West Schiller Street. The CTA No. 50 Damen bus stops in front of the park, at Le Moyne and Damen, and the Blue Line Damen “L” station at 1558 N. Damen Ave. is one block north of the park. The closest Divvy stations are at 2002 W. Pierce Ave. and 1416 N. Wood St.
Special events: The park field house will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 15, for a “Cocoa Fest” featuring hot cocoa from local merchants.
Season: The rink is expected to open Dec. 10, weather permitting, and close by March 1. Before you go, make sure the rink is open by checking its Facebook page, facebook.com/wickerICE/
Open skate: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and Sunday; 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Lessons: 10 to 11 a.m. on Saturdays in January and February when the ice is frozen. Classes are free; maximum of eight students. Online registration begins Dec. 6; sign up at wickerice.org
Stick and Puck: 7 to 9 a.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday; 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday. Allows for practicing skills but not scrimmage. Helmet, gloves and stick required.
Rat/pickup hockey: 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday. Required equipment: helmet, gloves, stick, shin pads, pants, shoulder and elbow pads and cup.
*All hockey players must read and sign rink rules and a waiver and bring their emailed confirmation of completion of both documents when they come to the rink.
Want to help?
To volunteer, sign up at http://www.signupgenius.com/go/30e0849a8aa29abf49-preseason
To donate, go to https://www.gofundme.com/wickerice3rd-year-fundraiser