If Mother Nature chills out, free outdoor skating will return to Allmendinger, Burns, and Northside parks this winter. The three natural rinks reopened last year after a fifteen-year closure, delighting many Ann Arborites. Judi, a fifty-eight-year-old woman who lives near Northside, recalls that despite recent back surgery, “I was so excited I got out there once–even with my pain.”

Parks operations planned to lay the rinks’ infrastructure in November–but manager Colin Smith warns “any opening date is entirely weather dependent.” He explains that rinks will be flooded only when the forecast predicts a “below-freezing span of at least ten consecutive days.” Last winter’s warm weather meant the rinks were open only from early January to early March–and not every day, either. (Staffers inspect the rinks every day and put out “closed” signs if it’s too warm.)

The outdoor rinks have a long history but lost funding during budget cuts in the early 2000s. Last year, council appropriated $60,000 on a trial basis and brought them back this year after getting positive feedback from skaters.

For Judi (who didn’t want her last name used), the timing was serendipitous. As a young, single woman she used to skate mornings at Northside after working a night shift. She left the city for many years; now divorced, she moved back to her old neighborhood just in time to hit the ice again–and, she says, make new friends with other skaters. She adds hopefully, “It’s supposed to be colder this year.”