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More Ice, More Skaters For Hartford's Winterfest Rink

Hillary Federico

November 25, 2011

The day after Thanksgiving traditionally is marked by serious shopping, wider waistlines and a tryptophan-induced hangover, but for many in the capital city, Friday also marked the unveiling of the Winterfest ice skating rink and the official start of the holiday season.

"Last year, 20,000 people came to skate or watch skating and it is a thrill to bring this opportunity back for families to enjoy once again," said event director Bob Crawford, a former Hartford Whaler and the owner of Champions Skating Center.

"Our vision here is that the skating and this park are available to everyone."

Embedded in the fuzzy glow of thousands of twinkling lights, the 90-foot by 80-foot outdoor skating rink stretched along Wells Street, near Pulaski Circle. The display, moved to Bushnell Park from Constitution Plaza in 2010, also featured a towering Christmas tree and live holiday music sung by a quartet from the professional choir CONCORA.

A small trailer sitting alongside the rink housed about 150 pairs of new and gently used ice and hockey skates donated by families and corporations throughout the state.

About 70 percent of the people who attend Winterfest don't have access to skates, Crawford said during an unveiling ceremony at the rink Friday afternoon. Volunteers inside the trailer doled out the appropriate size pairs to nearly 600 eager people who had been waiting in line some for several hours to try their skills out on the ice.

Rosy cheeked skaters took to the ice almost immediately after the ceremonial ribbon lining the entryway was cut. Some twirled, spinning on jet-black hockey skates with rhythmic precision. The more seasoned skaters glided, gaining speed as they made their way around the rink; their faces balanced and composed. Others fell, legs splayed, their white-knuckled grip never letting up from comfort of the surrounding wall.

Lyasia, 7, and Devin, 9, both of Hartford, were among the many waiting in line without skates. Neither had ever skated before. As they prepared to lace up, the two said they were excited to try something new, but did not know what to expect.

Four-year-old Isabella, of Hartford, was trying to skate for the first time. Grinning, and at times wobbling on the two slender blades, she said the biggest challenge for her was balance.

"I just do my balance, but I have to stay still," she said. "And if I get too tired, I fall on my bottom."

Jane Penfield, assistant director for workplace giving at the Greater Hartford Arts Council and project director for Winterfest, said the event was so well received by the public last year that organizer's wanted to create a more festive environment that highlighted Winterfest's most popular aspects.

"We started planning almost immediately after last year's event [ended]," Penfield said. "Skating is the primary focus. It was such a howling success last year. We were very pleased with the public reception of it."

This year was no different.

"It creates a neighborhood sense in Hartford," said Hartford resident Emma Macdonald. "I feel like there are so many good people here and it's so nice and good things are happening and to be able to have this where everyone wants to come out. ... It's really nice."

The event also strengthens city residents' quality of life, said Mayor Pedro Segarra's chief of staff, Jared Kupiec.

"Right now it's about the passion, excitement and enjoyment of people, particularly the children," he said.

"When you expose residents of Hartford to an experience like this, it shows them that anything is possible."

Winterfest will run about 14 weeks, until Feb. 20; last year, it ran for a month. This year's rink is bigger, about twice the square footage of last year's, and it can accommodate 140 skaters at a time, up from 70.

Public skating hours will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except holidays. Skating will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on New Year's Eve. For more information about hours or to view a schedule of events, visit http://www.hartford.com.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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