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Denison on Ice returns for 2020 season

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Organizers for Denison on Ice said the annual ice rink will feature changes for 2020 aimed at mitigating the risk of COVID-19 exposure

One of the tell-tale signs of winter will come to downtown Denison this weekend when Denison on Ice returns to Main Street on Saturday. Organizers for the annual outdoor ice rink, which is in its fifth year, said the site should be ready for the first skaters when it opens at 1 p.m.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's event will look slightly different than previous years as staff has taken precautions. The ongoing health crisis has led to changes in the event, ranging from reduced capacity to changes in hours this year.

"We want to ensure our visitor's health and safety, and that is our top priority," Denison Assistant parks and Recreation Director Kimberly Bowen said. "Our rink staff is going to enact a plan for regular cleaning to reduce the chance of exposure to COVID-19."

Denison on Ice will run from Nov. 21 through Jan. 3. Unlike previous years, the rink will maintain consistent hours regardless of day of the week which will be from 1 p.m. through 9 p.m. daily.

The rink will be open every day except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Bowen said the extended hours for the event were designed to make up for limited capacity for this year's event. Organizers have capped the total number of skaters that are allowed at time to 100 — down from the 140 that were allowed the previous year. This will allow room for the skaters to socially distance themselves from each other.

The spectator areas have also been expanded to allow more room for people to space out from each other. The rink will also have designated entrances and exits to help control traffic flow. Waivers and other paperwork have also been placed online as another way to limit contact on site, Bowen said.

However, the most visible change is the new tent that has been added over the rink for this year. Bowen said this feature will help organizers control the ice melt that comes with the heat, rain, wind and other pitfalls of the Texas winter.

"That is going to help us mitigate any weather we've faced in the past that has caused the ice to melt or decease our hours of operation," she said.

The tent will still be open on two sides to allow spectators to watch from the outside.

"Even though it covered, it will still have that outdoor feel," Bowen said.

This may have led to an expected change for the rink in the days leading up to the event. In previous years, organizers had worked until the opening to ensure that the ice was ready for skaters. However, Bowen said the ice was ready and prepared by mid-week this year.

Instead, decorations, including new laser lighting, are likely to be the last thing to be piece before the rink is ready to open.

Organizers are uncertain how many visitors the rink will draw to downtown this season due to the pandemic. In previous years, the rink would bring several thousand people to the attraction, and also the businesses surrounding the area.

"This is going to be an unprecedented season for us — We really don't know what to expect," Bowen said.

Denison on Ice will not have as many special days or themed events this year as a way to limit crowds. Likewise, paired events with the library were cut from this year's schedule, Bowen said. 

"We are going to do very limited programming this year just do to the mitigating situation with the public health emergency," she said. "We are not going to be doing big events with a large draw."

Instead, the event will likely include themed days for groups that have been a central focus during the pandemic — medical staff, first responders and teachers.

For more information, please visit http://www.denisononice.com.