Ice Breaker: Buckhannon set to skate into the spotlight with America’s largest synthetic ice rink

BUCKHANNON – The vacant lot at the corner of Spring and Main Streets in Buckhannon is set to be transformed into a major attraction, just in time for the 2023 World Association of Marching Show Bands (WAMSB) Championship in mid-July.

Travis Foster, the owner of Foster’s Marketing Group, has purchased a 4,800-square-foot synthetic ice-skating rink that will be installed in the lot at the corner of Spring and Main Streets. The lot has remained vacant – save for Strawberry Festival food vendors – since a devastating October 2021 fire in downtown Buckhannon destroyed the structure there.

Foster wants to have the rink installed by the WAMSB event, which is slated for July 17-24.

The rink is portable, comprised of 150 panels that measure 32 square feet each, and takes about eight hours to set up and tear down, Foster said. After mulling over whether to construct a new building, keep the area as a paid parking lot or simply sell the property, Foster settled on purchasing the synthetic ice-skating rink.

“It’s an idea that I’ve been talking about and working on for the last couple of years – an outdoor ice-skating rink for the community, and really, for the kids,” he said. “I wanted to bring in something different that would not only be available to people here but would also bring visitors into the community to spend money and be a part of the great festivities in town that we already have.”

A mock-up of the synthetic rink / Photo courtesy USA Synthetic Rinks

Initially, the idea seemed cost-prohibitive until Foster’s research led him to Marc Kohn, president and CEO of USA Synthetic Rinks, a Silver Spring, Maryland-based company which sells, rents and assists with the setup of synthetic ice-skating rinks across the country.

So, what exactly is a synthetic ice rink? Kohn said the best way to describe the surface is to imagine it as a huge cutting board fashioned out of a special type of plastic: the surface is the board, and the ice skates are the knife.

“You can put on real skates and go out on it, and you can glide across this plastic, and it leaves micro-cuts in the surface, but it doesn’t really wear it down,” Kohn told My Buckhannon Thursday.

Slightly more effort is required, but usually, after about 5-10 minutes, people get the hang of it and really enjoy the experience, he said.

“Frozen water is slicker; synthetic ice has about 90-92 percent of the glide-ability of real ice,” Kohn said. “It does take a little bit more effort to push with your legs. For example, on real ice, you might just glide a short distance without even trying. But the thing is, you can do everything on synthetic ice rinks that you can do on a real ice rink – it just might be a little slower and require a little more effort, but it’s just as fun – that’s the key.”

Foster purchased 150 panels that will be assembled, along with surrounding safety boards, 120 pairs of ice skates and a skate hut, which Kohn says will be equipped with air-conditioning and function as a cooling hut during WAMSB.

Foster hopes to have the rink set up from Thanksgiving through Christmas – and possibly even Valentine’s Day – and wants to partner with regional Christmas tree farms to have a selection of trees available and create a winter wonderland vibe downtown.

But the rink will make its debut during WAMSB.

“With the large band competition coming, I’ve had a ton of underground support from people pushing me to set it up for that week because it’s unique – it’s almost like a haunted house or a carnival; you don’t have those year-round,” he said. “I was able to work out the logistics, and now we’re at the point where we can release it that we are going to have not only an outdoor synthetic rink, but the largest outdoor commercial synthetic ice rink in the nation.”

The rink will be open:

  • Thursday, July 20, 4 pm – 11 pm
  • Friday, July 21, 4 pm – 11 pm
  • Saturday, July 22, 11 am – 11 pm

Kohn said that to the best of his knowledge, the rink would indeed be the most spacious outdoor commercial (meaning not operated by a governmental entity) synthetic ice rink in the U.S.

“What’s interesting about this whole synthetic ice rink business is most spend a lot of their research and development efforts into putting very expensive chemicals into the ice to make it glide better – and it does, but when you add all the chemicals, it increases the cost substantially, and it’s not good for the environment,” he said.

Kohn said that USA Synthetic Rinks is taking a novel approach and enhancing glide-ability via a new type of ice skate, the V GAP blade, with a pending patent.

“We are reducing the friction without expensive chemicals, so we actually came up with a special thinner ice-skating blade,” he said. “When you take a third of the blade away, you have much, much less friction.”

Foster said his crew plans to grade down the gravel-covered surface of the lot and put a temporary asphalt covering down to create a level surface for the rink.

“After [WAMSB], we’ll take the rink down, store it, and then we will start developing the rest of the lot so that it will be completely done by Thanksgiving,” Foster said. “Then we’ll set the rink back up and run the rink for about two months.”

Throughout the rest of the year, Foster’s Marketing Group plans to rent out the lot to food truck vendors and festival organizers, and when it’s not occupied, it will serve as paid-by-the-hour gated parking with 24/7 surveillance, Foster said.

He’s most excited about the synthetic rink, though.

“There’s nothing like this around north-central West Virginia, and I want to bring it here and create an environment for the kids – something this town can be proud of,” Foster said. “I’m obviously invested in the community, and so the more diverse types of things that are going on in town, the better it is for a business owner like me – and for all businesses.”

News Feed