By Jerica Pender
It was 2007, just as our country took a deep dive into a recession, that the idea for a pop-up ice rink popped up on Jonathan Turlove’s radar. As the director of parks planning & maintenance for City of Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation, it’s his job to have great ideas. But It clearly wasn’t the right time for one – the City didn’t have adequate funding or the right space to host one, according to Scott River, the department’s director of recreation and facilities. Hosting a seasonal ice-skating rink became an idea that the City would just have to keep under their winter hat for a while.
Fast forward to 2013 when the City of Olympia purchased property along the isthmus, which at the time was the location of two blighted buildings near Capitol Lake – the former Thurston County Health Department and Housing Authority offices. In 2015, the buildings were razed and in 2018, the property was developed as an interim use space, now known as Isthmus Park.
Site improvements were made to allow for public access until a permanent plan for the property could be developed. Sandwiched between Capitol Lake to the south and the southern tip of Puget Sound to the north, this multi-use, 2.34-acre, flexible space has emerged as the winter home of Oly on Ice, a seasonal ice skating rink, for the past two years.
River remembers, “It was a crisp, blue sky, little-bit-of-frost kind of day – a beautiful day,” he says. The City was hosting a small celebration of the newly acquired property and River was walking over from his office. He was thinking about conversations that had been had on how to best use the new space.
“As I’m walking [toward the Isthmus property], it just all starts coming to me,” River says. “You’ve got this wide-open flat space, you’ve got the shadow of the Capitol, the Olympics, the Sound to the north. There’s even parking. If we were ever going to do the rink…” he trails off.
During the celebration, he says he whispered, “This could work” to Parks, Arts & Recreation director Paul Simmons. “Paul is a visionary who likes ideas,” River says. “…we didn’t get out of there without him already sharing the idea with a couple executives and elected officials. There was some excitement about that.”
Excitement there was, indeed, which is always needed when it comes to ushering an idea from thin air into something solid and tangible. Fortunately, for Oly on Ice, the citizens of Olympia overwhelmingly passed the Olympia Metropolitan Parks District in 2015, a junior taxing district established to provide funding for parks acquisition, maintenance, development, and safety.
It was then that the ice really began to solidify.
The City began a search for the right company to bring the idea to life. Contractor Ice Rink Events, specializes in modular ice rink technology and constructs pop-up ice rinks all over the world. In our region it operates seasonal rinks at Point Ruston and in Bellevue and an ice ribbon at Enchant at Safeco Field. The two had conversations going for several years, collecting data and researching the viability of a rink in Olympia by studying the success of rinks in towns with similar populations.
In 2018 the City decided to move ahead and hired Ice Rink Events to build a rink that has quickly become the backdrop of new winter traditions and holiday memories. What is skillfully constructed in less than two weeks became a rink with real ice, that last year in its inaugural season exceeded 20,000 skaters.
More than doubling their goal of hosting 9,500 skaters last year, the City is happy with its progress. It delights in receiving feedback from local residents such as Penelope Goode, who says, “I think it’s a really exciting time in Olympia right now, with all sorts of new development and improvement of previously unused areas. The ice rink is a perfect example of an innovative idea to take advantage of underutilized space and [provides] a fantastic gathering spot for families to get out and do something fun this winter!”
Joellen Wilhelm, outgoing Olympia school board member, is also an ice rink regular. “I go about twice a week with my two kids ages 12 and 7,” she says. Wilhem grew up in Ohio and like most Midwesterners, would skate the ponds and creeks when the weather got cold enough. She even took one quarter of ice skating in college at Ohio State University.
“I have had a chance to skate at the NYC Rockefeller rink once,” Wilhelm says. “My recollection is that the ice rink was smaller than here. After the Olympia rink opened last year, I decided to get my own skates and my daughter got a pair this year as an early Christmas gift.”
When asked if skating is an artistic expression for her, Wilhelm replies, “I’ve never thought of it that way, but I guess it is. I’m fairly untrained in that regard but it definitely is a creative outlet.”
“This is a particularly fun and festive opportunity,” remarks local massage therapist, Aniysa Zuchowski. Like other Olympians, she skated as a child but hadn’t donned a pair of skates since. “Ice skating makes me feel 12 again, and I am reminded that I’m never too old to find things to make me feel like my youth isn’t as far away as I think it is some days.”
Like Wilhelm, Charity Atchison also grew up skating outside. “I’m ecstatic to share my favorite sport with her kids!” she exclaims. She’s committed to going at least once a week and shares that she loves listening to the sounds of the skaters.
Although Olympia is not yet what might be called a proficient skating community, ice skating aficionados do exist, and even if getting out on the ice incites trepidation for some, there’s no cost to stop in and watch the twirls, spins, loops and even jumps of stylish skaters.
“There is something about the sound of a sharp ice skate cutting the ice that brings joy to my soul,” Atchison says. “So, just look for the lady with the big smile pushing her kid in the skate aid as fast as we can go. That’s me.”
Oly on Ice Seasonal Skating Rink
Isthmus Park, 529 4th Ave W, Olympia, WA, 98501
3:30 – 9 p.m. Mondays – Thursdays,
3:30 – 10 p.m. Fridays,
November 22, 2019 – January 20, 2020
$3 – $12
(Skate rentals included in admission pricing)