Winter outdoor programming reduced from past years due to lessened COVID-19 restrictions

The ice rink on the Green and fire pits on Massachusetts Row were first set up in the winter of 2021 amid efforts to increase outdoor programming during the COVID-19 pandemic.

by Parker O'Hara | 2/3/23 5:00am

by Sophia Scull / The Dartmouth

This year, warmer temperatures and the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions have marked the disappearance of the ice skating rink on the Green and fire pits along Massachusetts Row. In their absence, Student Government and the Outdoor Programming Office are increasing efforts to ensure students still have access to outdoor opportunities throughout the winter months.

The ice rink on the Green and fire pits on Massachusetts Row were first set up in the winter of 2021 amid efforts by the College to increase outdoor programming during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the director of the Collis Center Joseph Castelot. The ice rink and fire pits were also set up in the winter of 2022 amid increased COVID-19 restrictions, including a ban on indoor social gatherings for the first two weeks of the term.

Despite widespread student participation in these activities, Castelot said that the lack of indoor restrictions — among other COVID-19 precautions — means that “there [isn’t] as much of a need to create as many outdoor spaces.”

David Rogers ’25 said he was “disappointed” by the absence of the rink and fire pits this winter.

“It’s not really cold this year so it makes sense, but it still is sad that I feel like it's not the winter I remember,” Rogers said. “I get why there's no rink, but I don’t get why we don’t have the fire pits.”

For Rogers, last year’s winter activities also served as an important social space.

“The only real social fun I had [last winter] was doing winter activities,” Rogers said. “I feel like winter term was my favorite term freshman year because of these activities.”

Castelot said that most of the winter activities this year have been centralized at the Dartmouth Outing Club House near Occom Pond, as was the case prior to the pandemic. At the Club House, students can participate in activities like snowshoeing, cross country skiing and ice skating, according to the Outdoor Programming Office website. 

Castelot noted that activities like snowshoeing, skiing and sledding are currently possible due to the recent snowfall, but the dependence on weather and the unusually warm winter temperatures this year have made some of these activities — particularly ice skating on Occom Pond — more difficult to maintain.

“I don't know if anyone could really anticipate what the winter was going to look like this year,” Castelot said. “Just looking out towards this weekend, fingers crossed … the pond will freeze and hopefully we'll be able to get out there and be able to skate soon.” 

Last year, Student Government was involved with advocating for the ice rink on the Green, according to Student Government vice-president and chair of the mental health committee Jessica Chiriboga ’24. This year, however, weather has been the main factor in the absence of certain winter activities, according to School House senator Alejandra Carrasco Alayo ’25.

Despite the absence of the rink and fire pits, Chiriboga said that her committee has strived to increase spaces for outdoor wellness, even in the winter. 

“[The mental health committee] will be engaging in conversations with administration to identify different areas where there used to be community building spaces or wellness spaces outdoors on campus, identify why they aren't there and what the next steps are to bring those out there,” Chiriboga said.

Castelot said that winter can be a “difficult” time for students and said the Collis Center supports student efforts to plan outdoor activities.

“I think there is, when available, a desire to do things outdoors, and I think students really take that into consideration when planning their events,” Castelot said. “We’re always happy to help facilitate those events here at Collis with the fire pits or any sort of outdoor activities that we can manage.”