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MILLENNIUM PARK — To the future and wannabe Gracie Golds and Johnny Weirs lacing up their skates at Millennium Park: keep pushing forward.
The popular Downtown ice rink has a rule against skating backward, at least when it’s crowded. That’s what Abel Mebratu, a Downtown resident and regular at the ice rink, found out Sunday night.
That’s when Mebratu, who plays in a hockey league and hones his skills at the rink three times a week, said a staffer kept him and another guest from skating backward at the rink.
“I was like, ‘What’s going on?'” Mebratu said. “I’ve been skating at Millennium Park for a couple years and that’s the first time I’ve seen that rule.”
The apparent rule is a bummer for Mebratu, who says skating at the rink is “one of the best things you can do” during a miserable Chicago winter. It’s always a “relaxing” and “therapeutic” activity, but any rules against skating backward will sincerely limit what serious and skaters can do at Millennium Park, he thinks. Mebratu says he usually plays defense, a position that requires backward skating, while playing hockey.
“If you can’t skate backward, none of the good skaters will be able to do their routine,” Mebratu said. “The more experienced skaters might stop coming to the rink.”
Meanwhile, Mebratu said the staffer told another guest to stop skating backward while he was on the ice with a date.
“He was skating backward while holding her hand so he could show her how to skate,” he said.
Mebratu said the staffer told him the rule went into effect Sunday after a small child was hurt by another skater.
But when asked about the rules by DNAinfo Chicago, Westrec Marina Management, the company that manages the Millennium Park ice rink for the city, said the restriction isn’t specific to backward skating but part of long-standing “established rules.” Westrec also said the backward skating ban may only be enforced when the rink is busy.
“The ‘no skating backward’ rule is not a new rule, rather it falls under our established rules of ‘skating in a manner that endangers or interferes with the enjoyment experienced by other skaters is strictly prohibited,’ ” John Holton, Westrec’s director of operations, said in an email. “We are committed to providing a safe and fun environment for everyone that enjoys the ice rink, but we do attempt to provide a degree of leniency on days that are not very busy, which is not very often, particularly on the weekends.”
Indeed, a recent weekday trip to the ice rink off Michigan Avenue revealed a small group of experienced skaters spinning, skating backward, and doing what they wished uninterrupted. But Mebratu said the crowd was pretty small Sunday night, too, with the only guests at the time being skilled skaters like himself.
The rink, which also offers free skating lessons, is open to the public from noon to 8 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, noon to 10 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
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