Wicker Park Ice Rink: Hopes for long stretch of cold temps despite raindrops


Brian Culliton, his wife Amy Pilewski and their children*

WickerICE, Wicker Park's ice rink, is up. Unfortunately only ducks would be happy with its ice status. Though temps are going down for a few days, they are expected to be back up next week. But, the Culliton family have high hopes for at least a few days of skating this season, even as  they were checking the rink amid raindrops this last week. 


The arch of water filled the rink.**

Local residents Brian Culliton and Nick Gecan individually came up with the dream of having an ice rink in Wicker Park and contacted the Wicker Park Advisory Council's Doug Wood. In a matter of months a team of volunteers are making those dreams a reality. Having over $50,000 in their coffers and counting, "we have actually made it happen," said Culliton. 

"There has been so much joy in working on this project," explained  ice rink ad sales leader Amy Pilewski, Culliton's wife. "The community support has been huge from businesses and individuals!" 


Arch shown from a different angle. **

The entire team's work has included many tasks from designing the Wicker Ice logo to designing the rink; procuring the rink vendor; selling ads for inside the rink; holding fund raisers ; establishing a Go Fund Me Page; working on merchandise; and lining up volunteers for rink maintenance. Others heavily  involved in the project include Lorna Cagann, Mike Kupfer, Kris Von Dopek and Doug Wood. 

Ice skating in Chicago


Amy watches as Brian demonstrates the zamboni*

Normally expectations for skating days on a non-refrigerated rink are 14 to 30 days in a Chicago season, but it has been as few as five. Both Culliton and Pilewski feel that it is not about the number of days as much as the exhilaration that comes from the experience of this type of old fashioned public outdoor skating. 

While they have gone elsewhere in the City such as the Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park and up to McFetridge, an indoor rink, the distance from home and the crowding are not what they are looking to experience for them or their young children, who range in age from five to two. 


Holes were drilled in the pipe for water to flood the

They feel so strongly about it that Culliton built a rink in the backyard in past winters. "Though ours was small, it didn't take long to maintain it, running the zamboni over it to add about a sixteenth of an inch of new surface," he explained. "For our 6o by 120 foot rink in the Park, it may take around a half hour." 

The "zamboni" Culliton created was out of piping with holes drilled across its length. Hooked up to a hose, a layer of water can be spread across the ice surface as a cloth aids in smoothing it out. He anticipates that the Wicker Park zamboni will use a 15 to 25 gallon container of water on a dolly as its water source. 


Ads line the rink's inside walls

"Opening Day and the Opening Ceremony, held on the following weekend, will be an incredible celebration for all ages. The rink will be open for skating after seven consecutive days where the high temps are below 30 degrees fahrenheit  during the day and the night time temps in the 20's," explains Wood. "Until then, please throw your balls and frisbees away from the fenced in rink and please don't enter the fenced area. Help us preserve the rink for the community on opening day." 

The committee is still working on final operational decisions. Here are some of the issues that they are finalizing:

  • Rink rules 
  • Rules for puc and stick hockey are being drafted. This set of rules must be downloaded by all hockey players and signed on line. All hockey players must wear protective gear.
  • The skaters will be required to remove their skates or  wear their skate guards if they choose to enter the field house or walk to the fountain court. No matting will be layed in those locations. 
  • The changing area - place to put on skates with matting will be located by the two new drinking tables and matting will connect the two gates and be laid on the grass between them.  Other benches, etc will be purchased for the area for people to sit on to change into and out of skates. 
  • Website for volunteer scheduling and notification. Volunteers will remove snow, resurface rink each evening, man the rink on weekends for two to three hour shifts and resurface with shovels during heavy usage times. 
  • The installation of netting on the Schiller side to prevent flying pucs from traveling to the sidewalk I 
  • Flags signaling the ice rink status. Red for closed and green for open will be posted on the Schiller side fence and on the fountain sidewalk side of the rink. 
  • The second waive of ad sales is coming to a close. 
  • Banners announcing the rink, rink hours with logos of sponsors and ad clients will be posted on the Damen banner board and the dog park fence at Schiller and Damen after Christmas. 

The Chicago Park District, who partners in this project, has is expanding its staffing schedule to cover hours when the rink is open. This will make this free activity more pleasant for those who will be skating whether for family skating or for ice hockey skating. 

What are this winter's weather predictions?
Mother Nature's whacky El Nino weather patterns were described by NBC weather predictors, "This year's El Nino is one of the strongest on record and it could have a big impact on winter weather across the nation, according to the latest forecast models." 

More predictions from Fox 32 warn of warm winter too. 

Even the latest WGN story about WickerICE is not predicting skateable ice in the near future. 

While the Cullitons' greatest joy is the coming together of the community on this project, their biggest disappoint, thus far, is the weather. But as Brian says, "It is not the number of days that counts, it is the experience." 

The money raised will fund this startup and give the WickerICE Committee funds to cover next year's expense to re-install. Volunteers are vital to the continuing success of the ice rink. To participate check the Wicker Park Advisory Council website and the WickerICE Facebook page. 


Notice that the snowflake in the center of the design was created with Ws and Ps

"It would be great if we could get enough support to have a refrigerated rink," said Cullinton. "That would give us between four and six months of skating," he said with stars twinkling in his eyes. Considering their successful efforts to date, it seems to be a good possibility. 

All who want to financially support the ice rink, buy a the WickerICE hat with the WickerICE logo, designed by Lorna Cagann, or donate via GoFundMe

Nick Gecan's childhood experiences and memories inspired him to put his skating experience into short story form several years ago. He is sharing that now, so that others may understand the positiveness of this experience that transcends age. To read Night Skate, click here.

*Sources: *Elaine Coorens; **Jane Wenger



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