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A Winter Treasure: The Boyd Park Skating Rink

Submitted by Editor on January 15, 2014 – 4:23 pm | Print or Email »No Comment

Words and memories: Brad Mueller
Photo: The current rink at Boyd Park,  by Volume One

Sometime before the first significant snowfall of the season, Eau Claire city workers formed an oval -shaped border in Boyd Park’s sandy soil for the soon to be flooded skating rink. During Christmas break from school, Eastside Hill neighborhood kids divided their days between the Boyd Park rink and the Forest Hill Cemetery Seven Bumps sledding hill. Fresh snow the night before would dictate a morning on the hill, until the snowy slope was worn to ice and patches of grass. After a brief stop at home to exchange sleds for skates, the action shifted to the north where by early afternoon the rink had been plowed. I remember long, pleasantly exhausting winter days spent at the Boyd Park outdoor skating rink in the 1960s and 70s. You know, back when we actually had winter-for several months!

During the Christmas break, the rink’s warming house opened before noon and stayed open well into the evening. It was not uncommon for some of us hard cores to spend to spend six to eight hours, or more, a day at the rink. Some days we brought a lunch, other days we took a short break and refueled at home with grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell’s Tomato Soup.

For most Eastside Hill families, ice skates were a luxury item-almost always purchased used and handed down the sibling ladder and shared amongst neighbors as needed. Skate sizing was adjusted by the number and thickness of socks. Most kids had either hockey or figure skates. The lucky kids had speed skates, with long flat blades meant for extended, fluid strides and wide, gradual turns. The used skates  worn by most kid skaters had leather boots with no ankle support. If you did not have super strong ankles, the well worn leather boot got as much ice time as the blade.

The warming house was located at the Northwest corner of the park. Rubber mats covered the floor and wooden benches lined all four walls with a couple of parallel benches in the middle of the single room structure. The painted cinder block walls were covered with hand painted shield-shaped wooden plaques that memorialized various skating and track and field accomplishments-both individual and organization (school or club). As I recall, there were plaques from the 1940s and maybe earlier.

No hockey at the Boyd Park rink. Instead, hours were spent playing the ice rink versions of playground chase games such as tag or pull-it (sometimes referred to as “wall-to-wall”). I have no clue why pull-it was called pull-it. It just was. In pull-it, skaters lined-up along either the North or South rim of the rink, one volunteer skater stood in the middle facing the line of adversaries, yelled “pull-it” and the lined-up mass took-off for the safety of the opposite side of the rink while the middle guy (it was pretty much a guy game) tried to tag as many of the others as possible. Once tagged, you remained in the middle and joined the other tagged pursuers as the untagged reset their line made the mad dash back across the rink upon hearing the “pull-it” cry. The process repeated itself, on and on until one skater was left untagged-the winner. Between pull-it sessions, large groups of skaters often formed conga-line style whips, the longer the line the better.

The rink was  a neighborhood gathering point all winter long. When school reopened post holidays, as Boyd School students we were lucky enough to be able to bring our skates to school and skate during our lunch period. How cool was that? Boyd Park was, and still is, a truly wonderful community asset that Eastside Hill residents should never take for granted.

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