DEVENS -- For those seeking an intimate, outdoor ice skating experience, look no further than the ice skating rink atop Rogers Field off Sherman Avenue on Devens. This weekend, the rink opened for the season and quickly began receiving visitors.
A four-season sports magnet, Rogers Field hosts soccer, lacrosse, rugby, and ultimate Frisbee competitions in the warmer weather. But for the last seven winters or so, the field has been partially flooded and frozen for skating.
Devens Recreation Program manager Kim Walsh confirmed that the ice skating rink is free and open daily to the public from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. There are flood lights aside the rink for nighttime skating.
Devens Department of Public Works Manager David Blazon gave the rink a final inspection Friday afternoon before officially opening the facility for the season -- the rink had attained at least six inches of solid ice. On Friday, the temperatures hovered in the upper 20s following a prolonged subfreezing stretch. This week, however, the daytime temperatures were mild and largely in the 40s.
Due to weather fluctuations, Walsh said the public would be well advised to monitor the Devens Recreation Facebook page (facebook.com/DevensRecreation) for updates on the condition of the rink before visiting. "We'll update the public on when it's open and closed in event of bad weather," said Walsh.
Walsh credited the Devens DPW crew for manually maintaining the ice -- shoveling off fresh snow accumulations, calling in Devens Fire tankers to flood the rink as needed for fresh freezes, and even lighting the occasional torch or two to melt high spots along the icy surface as needed.
"We melted some of the trip hazards," said Blazon. "Then we'd refill it with water. But the winds across the field cause ripples in the water as it freezes."
"It's been a process," said Walsh. "They fill the rink, shave it manually -- they're out here with shovels, and they snow blow the surrounding area."
Though the frame was erected in early December, the ever-fluctuating weather caused a delay in the rink opening this season. "We filled it, it needed to get cold. Then it got hot, we had storms, we had rain," said Walsh. "We needed consistent frigid weather to get that surface frozen solid."
While the rink is now open for use, Walsh warns that the surface is rough. That's by design.
"The goal of the rink is that it's supposed to have the feeling of home," said Walsh. "It's a modest rink. There's nothing extravagant about it but it's supposed to feel like your own home. We make it available to the community and the surrounding towns."
"People need to understand that if they want professional, smooth ice, they need to go to an indoor rink," said Walsh. "This is to be like your backyard."
Walsh also noted that the rink is not manned, and so skating is at one's own risk, though the Massachusetts State Police patrol the area.
The rink attracted throngs of visitors over the weekend, who took advantage of mild but cold weather for a weekend skate. Among the visitors were the Heinrich Family of Groton -- father Mark and son Ryan, 10, played a bit of hockey while daughter Kasey, 10, and wife Julie free-skated around the rink.
There were also countless other children on and around the ice, curious to see the rink set up for the winter. Walsh predicts business will pick up again as the temperatures dip back below freezing.
"We'll see families use it after school and a lot more activity on the weekends," said Walsh. "I hope to see folks that might not be working take advantage of it during the weekdays, too."
Entrance is gained at 100 Sherman Ave., at the entrance for the Devens Community Center. There is ample rinkside parking. There's also a gazebo aside the rink providing cover for those watching the skaters.