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Cass Park Rink provides socially-distanced recreation

The entrance to the ice rink, which displays an “Enclose Cass” banner that advocates for turning the rink into a year-round facility. (Jack Murray/Ithaca Week)

ITHACA, NY–– For the staff at the Cass Park Rink in Ithaca, New York, seeing community members utilizing the facility is a familiar sight that can help distract from these uncertain times.

The Cass Park Rink, which is owned and operated by the City of Ithaca, is a seasonal ice arena that operates from late October to mid-March. The rink is not fully enclosed. This means that it is technically an outdoor rink, with a light roof that separates the interior from the outside.

Jim D’Alterio, Ithaca Youth Bureau Deputy Director, said the experiences the park had with their summer activities helped his team brainstorm ways to make the winter season work at the rink.

“When the first cases came to Tompkins County last Spring it was during our rink season and we had to close for the last weekend,” D’Alterio said. “That was our first opportunity to look at what we are dealing with. As the summer moved along, we were able to devise some plans and understand that while operating during a pandemic would present challenges, it is a great service for the public at a time when not many things are available.”

When entering the facility, signs dictating how to social distance properly adorn the side boards along with one-way entrances and exits that are meant to keep skaters from bumping into each other. Rink guard Mike Cafaro said that the signs make sure that patrons are made aware of all the new policies that the pandemic called for.

A sign displayed in the bleacher area overlooking the ice rink that describes the facilities policies regarding the pandemic. (Jack Murray/Ithaca Week)

“[The signs] are a necessary reminder that while this may feel like normal fun, and we’re glad that it does feel that way, there is the spectre of the virus that we cannot forget,” Cafaro said. “We can’t be less vigilant or lose focus and having the signs reinforces this.”


As a rink guard, Cafaro is tasked with keeping watch over the public skaters, which includes enforcing masks and social distancing rules. He said that the community has been very cooperative.

“There are times when we have to remind people to keep their distance,” Cafaro said. “Overall, I like how people are able to enjoy normal behaviors but still be able to snap back to reality when needed.”

In addition to public skating, which is held seven days a week and has extended hours on weekends, the rink is home to the Ithaca Youth Hockey Association and also offers skating lessons to beginners.

While hockey is limited currently, as New York State has barred teams from playing any sorts of game-like scenarios, D’Alterio said that the hockey program utilizes the rink seven days a week and is still offering their players practice times.

“We have a whole other set of protocols for hockey use,” D’Alterio said. “They have Covid plans and have adjusted to just doing drills and clinics and people are happy to be able to get out and play in whatever format is available.”

The skating lessons take place throughout the week as well, and D’Alterio said that despite high demand, the rink is not expanding the number of lessons in order to make a full commitment to de-densifying the building.

A container of Clorox wipes appear next to the P.A. system, serving as an example of the ice rinks attempt to consistently sanitize all surfaces. (Jack Murray/Ithaca Week)

 “We’ve had a lot of requests to open more lessons and we’ve actually had to restrain ourselves,” D’Alterio said. “We try to keep the number of classes relatively low and be happy with what we have got and not push it too much.”


 In order to operate a fully functioning rink with lobbies and locker rooms during a pandemic, D’Alterio said that a

commitment to maintaining proper sanitation is very important.

“We have multiple cleaning points throughout the day,” D’Alterio said. “We are spraying down benches frequently and go through the restrooms and cleaning down all commonly touched areas and spraying down rental skates with sanitizer. It’s high frequency and about doing things the best we can to make the whole environment as safe as possible.”

Despite the revised operations at the rink, Cafaro said the positive atmosphere of skaters simply enjoying being on the ice hasn’t changed.

“Everyone is working on their skills, trying to learn new skills or even just trying to get around the ice without falling,” Cafaro said. “They are just enjoying each others company and laughing when they do fall, as we all do.”

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