By Javacia Harris Bowser
For the Birmingham Times
Imagine yourself, your friends, or your family gleefully gliding across an outdoor ice skating rink at your favorite park. Then you grab a cup of delicious hot cocoa to sip while waiting for your chance to ride down a 100-foot ice slide. From the squeals, giggles, and smiles, you know it will be like sledding—but better.
To have this experience you don’t have to fly to New York City and visit Central Park or even drive to Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Ga. You can have your own winter adventure in Birmingham at Railroad Park.
Brrrmingham, presented by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Callahan Eye Hospitals and Clinics, will be open seven days a week (except Christmas Day) through January 5. For the holiday season, the park features a 50-foot-by-80-foot rink on the Regions Bank 17th Street Plaza. And for the first time, this year’s winter activities also include a 100-foot slide in the amphitheater near the rink.
Railroad Park has featured an outdoor ice skating rink during the holiday season since 2016, but park officials decided to add the ice slide this year.
Joy Myers, Railroad Park Foundation Director of Events, said, “Not everyone wants to skate, so this gives an opportunity to still come out and do something.”
Camille Spratling, Railroad Park Executive Director, added, “Even if you don’t pay to skate or slide, you’re still going to enjoy just being a part of the atmosphere.”
Visitors can enjoy chili, grilled cheese sandwiches, hot cocoa, or coffee from The Boxcar Café at the park, Myers said. And the professional lighting around the rink will make it easy to take winter wonderland pictures with family and friends.
’Tis the Season
Spratling and Myers want Railroad Park’s Brrrmingham to help the entire city usher in the holiday spirit.
“For me, the holidays are about friends and family, and I want to find something for us to go out and do that’s a little different,” Myers said. “This is definitely something I will bring my out-of-town guests to, as well as get my girlfriend group together for or even just have a date night with my husband.”
Spratling wants Birmingham residents and their families to make holiday memories at Railroad Park.
“The holidays for most people are about something that’s special,” she said. “So, doing something that’s special, that’s memorable, fits with that.”
Furthermore, Spratling believes Railroad Park’s Winter Adventure is another way to unite the city.
“This is the kind of event and activity you can enjoy, regardless of what kind of faith you believe in,” she said. “Even if you are somebody who does not have a faith that you practice, you are still welcome.”
Healthy for the Holidays
Part of Railroad Park’s mission is to promote health and wellness for Birmingham’s residents. That’s why the park, with support from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, hosts free fitness classes five days a week from March through October.
Brrrmingham is Railroad Park’s way to try to keep residents healthy even during the holidays. Ice skating—with the city as a backdrop—can be a fun activity that motivates people to get outside and get moving.
“I know I have to push myself to get out and exercise when it’s cold, and this is a way to exercise for fun,” Spratling said.
Myers added, “It does work completely different muscles than anything else you do.”
Throughout the season, the park will offer a number of discount days, including 99 Neighborhoods Day presented by Piggly Wiggly on December 17. Residents of Birmingham’s 99 neighborhoods can get half off their ticket price.
“Railroad Park only works if everybody can afford to come,” Spratling said. “Whenever we do anything in the park that involves a fee, we always make sure part of the park is open for people who don’t want to pay a fee.”
Spectators who want to see skaters show off their skills on the ice are welcome for free.
“And it’s going to be fun to watch people come down that slide,” Spratling added.
On December 11, park visitors can meet members of the Birmingham Bulls Hockey team. There are plans for Pelham Ice Arena to give lessons and exhibitions, too, Myers said.
A Gathering Place
Even before Railroad Park opened in 2010, it was always meant to be a place where people of Birmingham from all walks of life could come together.
“The design of the park was intentionally open,” said Spratling, who has worked for the park since 2010 and served on the board for four years before joining the staff. “Tom Leader, the head designer [of Railroad Park], said you need to make sure that every few feet there’s something saying, ‘Come on in.’”
Creating a place where everyone feels welcome doesn’t stop with the park’s design—and it doesn’t happen by accident.
“The leadership on the board and staff [is] very purposeful,” Myers said. “We talk about being welcoming. We talk about our marketing and trying to be inclusive. We talk about the programming, making sure everybody feels like there’s something here for them.”
This goes beyond offering free and affordable events. Being inclusive means creating marketing materials that show people of different races and with different body types. It means having a diverse board. It includes offering sensory tents at some events for children who feel overstimulated. It means working to gain a deeper understanding of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations to be sure Railroad Park is welcoming to people of all abilities, too.
“We do feel like one of our most important roles is to be that place where the community gathers together,” Spratling said. “In order to do that, we have to always keep it fresh, keep it interesting, and make sure we’re continually saying we want you—we want all of you.”
Ice skating tickets, which include skate rental and unlimited time in the rink, are $12 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under. Tickets for the ice slide, which includes unlimited rides, are $10 for adults and $8 for children 12 and under. Combo tickets, group rates, and party packages are also available.
Brrrmingham Winter Adventure in Railroad Park, presented by UAB Callahan Eye Hospitals and Clinics, is open through January 5. For more information visit railroadpark.org/iceskating.php.
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