Backyard ice rinks all the rage in Franklin County

  • Bryce Zraunig, 9, skids to a stop on the Greenfield family's backyard ice rink. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Above, Ethan Wilkins of Greenfield watches his twins, Hunter and Wyatt, 6, play hockey on their backyard rink. Below, top middle, Bryce Zraunig, 9, skids to a stop on his family’s backyard rink. At middle, Jag Garriss, 6, plays hockey on his backyard rink in Greenfield. At the bottom, Matt and Kelly Zraunig watch their children Chase, 11, Bryce, 9, and Daniel, 5½, skate on the Greenfield family's backyard ice rink. For more photos, visit the online version of the story at Staff PhotoS/Paul Franz

  • Matt and Kelly Zraunig watch their children Chase, 11, Bryce, 9, and Daniel, 5½, skate on the Greenfield family's backyard ice rink. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Jag Garriss, 6, plays hockey on his backyard rink in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Daniel Zraunig, 5½, is all tuckered out after skating on the family's backyard ice rink. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Twins Wyatt and Hunter Wilkins, 6, on their backyard rink in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Jag Garriss, 6, plays hockey on his backyard rink as his mother Allison Garriss watches in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Published: 2/19/2021 2:30:16 PM

As the country continues to navigate through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems just about everyone is attempting to unearth safe ideas to keep their families both entertained and occupied.

During winters in New England, where the bitter cold weather spans three-to-four months, it can be difficult to find safe outdoor activities.

Several locals have found a solution for just that. It seems the number of Franklin County residents building outdoor ice skating and hockey rinks in their yards has exploded this winter.

Greenfield’s Allison Garriss has a young son, Jag, who plays hockey in the Franklin County Hockey Association. With Jag’s continuous growing interest in hockey — along with the uproar of the pandemic — she and her husband, Matt, yearned for their son to have a place to play closeby. They decided to construct a rink of their own.

“At first it was kind of a joke,” Garriss began. “The more we talked about it, we started to ask ourselves if we could actually do this. We reached out to people who have had rinks, started doing a lot of research, and then began gathering the materials.”

Succeeding in the construction process, Garriss was pleased with the outcome of having a safe, healthy, outdoor activity for Jag and his peers to participate in.

“It’s nice to see my son and his friends be able to safely enjoy something they all love to do,” offered Garriss. “To have a rink in your backyard and the ability to have your kid just throw on his skates and go play whenever he wants is truly special.”

Ethan Wilkins, another Greenfield resident with kids playing in the FCHA, had the exact same mindset as Garriss.

“My kids do get to have their scheduled practices and scheduled games,” Wilkins started. “But this is just another way to get out and release some energy with them being cooped up at home.”

After noticing the amount of joy and excitement the rink has brought his kids, Wilkins said he is hungry to go even bigger.

“Now that it’s complete and the kids are on it, and you see how much fun they have, you immediately think about what can you do next year?” Wilkins said.

He mentioned that hanging lights up in his yard, and adding colored LED lights to represent the blue and red lines on the hockey rink, would be his next project.

Both Garriss and Wilkins constructed their rinks from scratch and with their own materials. Each used a stockpile of wood for the frame, and lined the inside with plastic to contain the water. Although their rinks are put together similarly, each has faced some different obstacles.

“If a leaf or a stick gets in your water,” Garriss began, “and it freezes and sticks out, it can make it really difficult to skate on and can make the surface very bumpy.”

She added that they have had to torch the ice where leaves and sticks are found, melting the area before pulling them out and re-packing the spot with slush.

As for Wilkins, his problem was a little more expensive, and occurred almost immediately. “I definitely went through the ups and downs,” he admitted. “The first liner we put in had a couple tears in it. I tried taping it everywhere I could, but I started to get really frustrated so I just went out and bought a new one.”

Adversity is definitely faced when it comes to building a backyard skating rink, but the reward is most certainly a gratifying one when seeing the final product.

Fellow Greenfield resident and FCHA coach Matt Zraunig started building a rink in his yard four years ago, using wood and a bunker cover from the farmers’ market to construct it.

He started building it when his oldest child first got into skating.

“He would go to our neighbors house or the pond down the road to go skating,” Zraunig said. “After my kids started getting into skating, I had to do one myself. It’s a great thing to have. It keeps them entertained and gets them outside.”

While the end result of having the physical rink to skate on remains the goal, the process of building the rink can be equally rewarding. Enjoying the journey as much as the destination, so to speak.

For John Lively, getting to build his rink this year with his granddaughter, Charlie, was more enjoyable than the time spent skating on it after.

“We wanted to give her a little extra ice time,” Lively said. “It was a great project to do between the two of us. She had a ball, we had as much fun building it as we have had skating on it.”

It took the two a half day to build, using deck boards for the frame. Lively relied on 6-year-old Charlie for her technological skills, as she went on YouTube to see how people usually construct their rinks.

They found that pool noodles work well as side boards, so they went to the Dollar Store, surprisingly found pool noodles available in February, sliced them up and used them over the boards.

Now Charlie, who is involved with the FCHA, and her younger brother Mason, who is in the Learn to Skate Program, have a place to go to practice in their free time.

“I’m a firm believer in fresh air and exercise for the kids right now,” Lively said. “(Charlie is) a really good skater. It’s fun to watch her, she’s getting more ice time and the practice. Mason, too, you can see the difference in his skating.”

In a year where getting outside and finding ways to exercise hasn’t always been easy, backyard ice rinks have been a popular tool in helping the children of Franklin County find a way to get the blood flowing. 


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