WALNUT CREEK -- The downtown skate rink is back for its eighth year, and the rink manager has been noticing a general increase in skaters' skills.
"I was talking to one guy this morning who said it's his eighth year skating downtown," said Emery Lykins, who works for Special Ice, the contractor in charge of the rink for the second year. "He's a great example of someone who had never skated before the ice rink started, and now he skates 50 times a year. He looks pretty good to me. Slowly but surely the residents are coming around."
Lykins said some kids have now grown up skating every year.
"It's really cool is to see the kids that are 11 or 12 now, been coming here for more than five years, they are so excited to be here. They've got their routine down. Some kids are flying around on the ice."
The Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Association partnered to sponsor the ice rink at Civic Park, which opened on Nov. 12 and remains open through Jan. 13. A large tent, added last year, covers the rink so it can remain open even on rainy days.
Jay Hoyer, the president of the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce, said last year was a big success after a few years of failing to break even. He credited much of the success to the new vendor, Special Ice. He said the cost of construction and operation of the rink is between $550,000 and $600,000 and they try to make more than that to build up a cushion for years when revenue is down.
"If we relied on the $15 skate fee there's no way we could do it," Hoyer said. "It takes a combination of the skaters, the skate classes and the sponsors."
The rink is made by laying a frame and a network of pipes on top of the Civic Park parking lot. Then they run antifreeze through a network of pipes connected to a cooling system, and then add water on top of the pipes.
The next special event at the ice rink is the Teen Band Night, on Nov. 30. From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., the band Brave Ulysses will be playing. Hot cocoa and apple cider will be available as well.
Hoyer said that the rink brings a lot of business to downtown.
"We know that at least 40,000 folks will be skating," said Hoyer. "Probably twice that amount will be spectators. Most of them will go somewhere downtown to eat or shop."
The rink opens at noon Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. on weekends. It closes at 8 p.m. every day except Friday and Saturday, when it stays open until 11 p.m. All-day admission plus skate rental costs $15, but frequent skater passes are available. Birthday party packages can also be purchased. For more information and for holiday operating hours, visit www.IceSkateWanutCreek.com or call 925-935-7669.