BIDDEFORD — When Annette Belleveuille was growing up in Biddeford in the 1960s, she’d spend hours with her friends skating at West Brook Skating Rink.

On weekend nights, dozens of skaters would pack the ice on the small pond set below Pool Street. Cars parked along the edge of the road to watch as speed skaters raced across the ice.

“It was bumper to bumper,” Belleveuille recalled last week as she watched her grandsons skate, a scarf pulled around her face to block out a cold breeze. “It would be awesome to have generations and generations keeping skating here. There’s nothing like skating outside.”

Behind her, two dozen skaters criss-crossed the ice, the youngest among them wobbling as they learned to balance on their skates. The thwap of hockey sticks and bursts of laughter echoed around the outdoor rink.

The scene – with skaters of all ages spending hours on the ice – is one Dave Gagnon and other volunteers at the iconic Biddeford ice rink hope to keep going. For nearly 100 years, the West Brook Skating Rink has been a go-to spot for locals who enjoy skating outside. But the property, which is owned by the city, needs work and the volunteers who run the rink are banding together to find a way to get it done.

“It’s a legacy. People who worked in the mills came here to skate. There’s a lot of history here,” said Gagnon, who is president of the West Brook Skating Rink Association. “I want to see it keep going.”

The volunteers, led by Gagnon, have formed Friends of West Brook Skating Rink and are obtaining nonprofit status. They hope to work with the city to apply for grants and raise money for the repairs. Gagnon said the property, including the small building that houses a concession stand and skate shop, needs at least $100,000 in improvements. The roof and floor of the building need to be replaced. Outside, the banking around the pond has eroded.

Mayor Alan Casavant sees the rink as a valuable asset to the community, but acknowledges allocating money from the city budget is tough when the city has a long list of infrastructure projects that also need money. The City Council could consider paying for improvements as part of the budget if the group requests funding, he said.

“I think it’s really desirable to keep it open,” Casavant said. “The question is allocation of funds and how to do that.”

The rink first opened in 1921 and has run almost continuously since then. It last underwent a renovation in the 1990s. The rink was first opened by the Laverriere family and later transferred to the Knights of Columbus, Gagnon said.

Last winter, the rink opened for only about a dozen days because of warm weather. When the temperatures are low enough, volunteers spend hours flooding the pond and prepping the ice for skating. After storms, they use a fleet of snowblowers to remove snow. Volunteers also sell snacks, collect admission and pass out rental skates. They post updates about the days the rink is open on Facebook. All money from admission, rentals and concessions goes to running the operation.

For many skaters, a visit to the ice rink is like stepping back in time. Not much has changed inside the warming hut, which is lined with benches and tables. The walls are covered with photo collages showing skaters as early as 1943. Several collages feature fishing derbies hosted at the pond before erosion left the waterline too low to stock it with fish.

“If you look at the pictures on the wall, you see three or four generations,” said Mike Bolduc, the group’s treasurer. “It’s tradition.”

Rosie Shaw, a Biddeford native back for a visit last week with her 6-year-old nephew, Hunter Shaw, was eager to search the collages for photos of herself and her friends. It was her first time back at the rink in 15 years and she marveled at how much has stayed the same – right down to the root beer and popcorn she and Hunter snacked on during a break from skating.

“It’s nice because it’s just like it used to be,” she said.

Outside, 66-year-old Mark Smith of Kennebunkport took a break from his first skate in 15 years. He said he had skated at the rink once many years ago, but drives by often and sees it as a “great public hockey place.”

“Look at the kids out here,” he said. “They’re having a great time and this is a great spot.”

During Biddeford WinterFest on Feb. 5, the rink will be open for free skating and pizza. Gagnon hopes special events like that will help people rediscover the rink, especially given the growing popularity of skating at outdoor rinks at Thompson’s Point in Portland and the Waterhouse Center in Kennebunk.

“Twenty-five years ago, this was the only (outdoor) rink around. Now every community has one,” Gagnon said. “But this one is special.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @grahamgillian


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