SkatingBy Shelby R. Farrell


BELVIDERE – People from Belvidere and surrounding areas glided into the new Riverside Ice Arena at the grand opening the first weekend of December.

Hundreds of skaters went to the three-day event that included bucket races, slapshot competitions, giveaways and an appearance by Hammy from the Rockford Ice Hogs among other activities.

The new skating rink is a part of a $3 million overhaul of Doty Park on Locust Street. Belvidere Park District Marketing Manager Gabe Castillo said the park district and the city have been planning the new additions for over three years.

“This place is underutilized and had a lot of riff raff,” Castillo said. “In the past, we’ve had a lot of vandalism in this park, and we hope with the renovations and the time and effort that we put into that, that it keeps those who want to bring down Belvidere away and keep those who bring it back up.”

Security cameras were also added throughout the park to deter vandals and promote safety, but the main reason the ice arena was added was to give families more winter recreation opportunities.

Castillo said the arena’s original plans only included the splash pad and a “flood rink,” which freezes naturally as weather permits, but the Riverside Ice Arena has hundreds of pipes running beneath the ice to keep it frozen, even in 50-degree weather.

“Basically what a lot of people do, they put water on it and let the ice freeze, but to be able to run a consistent programming, ice lessons, which we have, and youth hockey,” he said. “To be able to do that, you need to be able to have some kind of consistency. I can’t have ice on one day and the next two weeks I don’t.”

Jet Etnyre is a 9-year-old hockey player from Poplar Grove, and he said the Riverside Ice Arena is now the closest to home, making a 20-minute drive into a 10-minute drive. He was at all three days of the grand opening, and he said he would probably continue going to the rink at least once a week.

“More people can get introduced to hockey and they’re starting leagues and that’ll just be phenomenal for people that like don’t have that much to do in the off-season in the winter when they usually do like football or basketball or something,” Etnyre said. “It’s just great.”

Although the new arena is starting new hockey leagues, Etnyre wouldn’t be able to play with the team because of his Skating 2experience, which includes five years of playing hockey. Castillo said the new league, the River Otters, was designed for beginners because most people with experience, such as Etnyre, are already participating in leagues in nearby areas including the Rockford Junior Ice Hogs.

“Hockey is getting to be a big thing in towns, so opening a site is actually huge for people that like hockey and other people that want to get into hockey,” Etnyre said.

To make the sport more accessible for those interested, Castillo said the Belvidere Park District is providing full hockey gear for up to 30 kids who join the River Otters. An adult league is also in the works at the Riverside Ice Arena, as well as plans for a permanent locker rooms for hockey players or frequent users at the arena.

“I think the recreation is a key part to anyone’s life and there’s a lot of people out there that want to have some kind of winter recreation opportunity,” he said. “We’re trying to keep activities for the families year-round. There’s a lot of people out there that would love to skate and to give the opportunity to those kids who don’t know how to skate is the opportunity to learn how to and more closer to home.”

The new arena is offering free admittance during public skate times until Jan. 3, and skate rentals are $1.

To learn about what else the Riverside Ice Arena offers, visit or call the Belvidere Park District at (815) 547-5711.

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