Ice Dream: Backyard Rinks Are On The Rise

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Robert and Emily Norton stand proudly on their backyard ice rink in Newton. (Courtesy of Dom Leal)
Robert and Emily Norton stand proudly on their backyard ice rink in Newton. (Courtesy of Dom Leal)

Hidden from view, behind a brown house on a cul-de-sac here in Newton is a rink of dreams. Robert and Emily Norton built it for their three boys, and the neighborhood comes.

"Really the whole street uses our rink whenever they want," Emily said. "We encourage them, too. It’s really fun waking up on a Saturday morning and looking out the window and, 'Oh, there’s our street out on the rink, let’s go join them!' It’s really, really fun."

Eight-year-old Lily Rousseau lives down the street and was one of the 12 kids on the rink a recent day.

"I really like coming down here, it’s really fun, it’s a good place to skate," she said.

The rink is a lot of work, says Emily Norton, an environmental consultant. But it's her husband's baby, outside his work as a trial lawyer.

"The rink is the first thing he checks when he gets up in the morning," Emily said. "This is not dissing him in any way at all, it’s not, I’m just saying. It’s the last thing he checks before he goes to sleep."

He’s not the only one obsessed with his backyard rink. All you have to do is log on to the listserve for backyard rinks to hear people in Acton, Norfolk and East Walpole wax on about how to fix cracks in the ice or repair it after it rains. It’s a quickly growing trend, according to businesses that supply the materials to build backyard rinks.

Robert Norton says he does it to give his kids what he had growing up in Rhode Island.

"Where I grew up there were lots of ponds in walkable distance even as a kid, you know, across the street, at the end of the street. You got to find a way to be outside when it's so cold. You know, otherwise the winter will drive you crazy."

To make theirs, the Nortons bought a professional ice rink liner for their 1,500-square-foot space. They laid it over a patch of grass, ringed it with two-by-four boards and pumped more than 5,000 gallons of water to fill it. They added halogen lights for night skating. It cost them less than $1,000.

Some people build a zamboni out out PVC pipe and a bath towel to resurface the ice and call it their "homeboni." But the Nortons keep the ice clear by dragging a 4-inch blade over it and asking friends like Dom Leal to shovel.

"You can go to a rink and skate around, but you can’t go anywhere and play hockey, so this is a great option for us," Leal said. "And the kids seem to like it better than just going skating."

The Nortons say this is now a neighborhood winter tradition. Robert is already thinking about the other extras he'll add.

"So next year it’s all about the accoutrements right?" he said. "We’re going to buy the fire pit. I’d love to find an old Army/Navy tent and cut the front off and have a place for the parents to hang out because it gets cold when you’re not moving."

At that, Robert jumped back on the ice with his hockey stick for one more pickup game before the warm temperatures turn his rink of dreams to slush.

This program aired on February 21, 2011.


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