KINGSTON – While many may be hoping for a mild winter season, others are praying for lots of rain, cold and freezing days in Kingston Village.
For Kingston Improvement Association President Susan Axelrod, these weather conditions mean the promise of families coming together to enjoy all Potter Wood skating pond has to offer. The years when weather permits it, the frozen pond attracts many families and community members who come to enjoy ice skating or a pickup game of hockey. Afterward, skaters can be found enjoying a warm fire or a packed lunch in the skating shed.
The skating shed has seen better days, though, according to Axelrod.
Thanks to a grant made available through the Rhode Island Foundation Potter Fund that will cover expensive building materials and the volunteer efforts of the Schartner Family, the skating shed will see some much-needed repairs before the start of the next winter season.
“They were the ones who came to us because they enjoyed the ice skating,” Axelrod recalled.
She had been out at the pond one day last winter taking photographs of everyone enjoying the ice when the family approached her.
“I stopped to take a picture of them playing hockey and they said, ‘Hey! Are you in charge? We want to redo the skating shed,’” Axelrod said. “It was just fortunate that I happened to be here.”
Seth Schartner, who will be working to help preserve the shed with his family, heard about the skating pond for the first time last year.
“We came down and it was great,” Schartner said.
Now, he’s back before the next season to give a little tender love and care to the site and help improve conditions for all those eagerly awaiting to return to the skating pond. On Monday morning, Schartner was at the dried out pond mowing down tall grass and weeds so they won’t stick up through the ice if the pond does fill in and freeze this winter.
Doing this every year, Axelrod said, helps to create a better surface since the pond isn’t very deep.
The improvements to the shed will need to happen under good weather conditions, Schartner explained. All of the work can be finished in two or three consecutive days of good weather.
“There’s not really a lot to do, but we just need to save the building and get a roof on there,” he said.
Since the Potter Fund has helped to provide all the necessary building materials, Schartner and his family, along with any volunteers who might want to donate their time and effort, will be making the preservation of the Bechtold Skating Shed possible.
The Bechtold Skating Shed was first built in 1959 in memory of David W. Bechtold, 11, who was killed the previous winter on his way to meet his brother at the pond. His father, Rep. Charles H. Bechtold, had been the president of the Kingston Village Association at the time and helped raise the necessary funds to build the skating shed and its fireplace.
Schartner, along with his father, Norman, 78, a retired contractor, his brother and sons, see this as their “good deed” for the community. His father, Schartner said, loves to help out with these kinds of projects.
Their donated time, effort and skills that have made this possible, Axelrod said, are just more great news for the Kingston Improvement Association.
The skating pond is only a small part of the 65-acre parcel of land that was donated by Mary LeMoine Potter in 1933. Known as Potter Memorial Wood, Potter donated the space to the association to be used as a village wood and recreational outdoor area. Within her will, she specified that funds be provided to maintain the property.
These funds have helped to forest the area that was largely open meadow space before the 1950s. In the late 1940s, a swampy area was dredged to create the current skating pond.
Even years later, after successfully running their largest-ever outreach campaign, the land will forever be a protected and open space. Thanks to generous donations from members of the community, the Kingston Improvement Association is moving toward granting a conservation easement to the South Kingstown Land Trust.
“The woods are a lot of walking trails and benches, and lots of native plantings and its wildlife,” Axelrod said, for those who may not have visited before. “It’s completely left alone, aside from maintaining trails.”
Like the skating pond, Potter Wood is open and free to the public to come and enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors.
For the coming winter season, Axelrod said she is hopeful that this year will bring the necessary conditions needed for the community to enjoy the skating pond and the improved Bechtold Skating Shed, but mother nature is never predictable.
“Sometimes we get the rain and it’s not cold enough,” Axelrod said. “Sometimes it’s freezing cold, but there’s no rain. Last year was perfect. Last year when there was ice, there were always tons of families out there.”
For anyone who wants to volunteer their time to the rehabilitation of the Bechtold Skating Shed or things happening with the Kingston Improvement Association in general, Axelrod invites everyone to reach out through their website, www.kingstonimprovementassociation.org, or the group’s Facebook page.