Mild winter’s been good for some recreation businesses, bad for others

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | The Greenport skating rink in action, something that hasn't always been the case this year.

The brisk winter air that finally reached the North Fork this past weekend was sour news to most local residents, but not to one business manager who relies on cold air this time of year.

Because of an unusually mild December and early January, with sunny skies and temperatures averaging in the upper 40s, the Greenport skating rink has been in flux this season.

“It’s been a huge, huge struggle,” said rink manager Mike Ryan in an interview last week. “Temperatures have approached the high 50s, it seems like every day now.”

The rink has its own refrigeration system, but it does rely on Mother Nature to keep the surface skateable.

“A lot of people are under the misconception that we just use a hose to flood the rink and freeze the water, but that’s not the way it’s done,” he said. “It has to be sprayed layer by layer and you need a few consistent days of cold weather to do it.”

It takes about 20 layers of sprayed water at about an hour per layer to lay a one-inch sheet of ice on the rink, Mr. Ryan said of the process, which can usually only be done at night. When a sunny day follows, the layers can start to melt.

“Between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., it can become problematic,” Mr. Ryan said. “We have a hockey club and a skating club with a total enrollment of 165 kids and we’ve had a bunch of cancellations.”

Rink staff can tell if it’s safe to skate if the ice is hard to a skate blade. If the blade sinks into the ice in any way, skating is a no-go.

The manager said the combination of the sunlight and warm weather have been “like a double-punch” so far, with only about two months left in the rink season.

“We’re just kind of adapting to it as being normal and trying to work around it,” he said. “We could never compromise anyone’s safety.”

This time last year, two winter storms had already dropped a total of more than two feet of snow on the North Fork. With not a single inch having fallen this year, local golfers are getting a bonus season this winter.

Golf pro Steve Feder of Suffolk County’s Indian Island Country Club in Riverhead says the weather has been a boon for their business.

“The weather’s been terrific and people are playing more golf than in the past three winters because we normally close Jan. 1,” he said.

He anticipates that in January’s opening two weeks, about 450 to 500 rounds of golf have been played.

On Saturday, Jan. 7, a day the Greenport skating rink closed due to warmth, 200 rounds of golf were played at Indian Island. The amount is unusual because the course is usually closed at that time.

Mr. Feder called the County’s delayed closing of the course a “very positive decision.”

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