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After opening and closing again, due to the pandemic, Oaks Park's Roller Rink is finally open again for skaters

DAVID F. ASHTON - Alexander Hess perfects his figure roller skating form under the direction of his coach (and mom), Abbigail Hess. As in most indoor activities, closures due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic have created repeated disappointments for the recreational and competition roller skaters across the Portland area who regularly skate at Oaks Park's famed Roller Rink.

Back on November 4th they were teased with a reopening of the historic roller rink – the nation's premier roller skating facility, and the largest rink west of the Mississippi – only to see it shut down again a mere ten days later, by governmental COVID-19 rules.

However, recently, skaters were elated when Oaks Park Association Marketing and Events Director Emily MacKay happily announced, "Oaks Park Roller Rink is reopening for limited public Open Skate Sessions starting March 1.

"While we don't have any assurances that we won't have to close down again, we feel confident, with the improving numbers in Multnomah County, that we may be able to operate on an ongoing basis, moving forward through 2021."

Oaks Skate Club rolls again

Having the rink closed was an inconvenience for casual roller skaters – but it was devastating for members of the Oaks Skate Club, whose members train at the rink for competitive "roller figure skating" and speed skating.

"I'm so glad we can be back here training on Saturday mornings," smiled the certified USA Roller Sports skating coach of 22 years, Abbigail Hess. "Getting back on the hardwood – well, this is my happy place, where, no matter how crazy the rest of the world is, it's just me, and the floor, and the music!"

Her student that morning happened to be her own son, Alexander Hess, a seventh-grader at Connections Academy. "Mom says I learned to walk at six months old, and they put skates on me at seven months old – so the Oaks Roller Rink is my skating home!" he told THE BEE.

Although it's unlikely there will be any regional or national competitions which Alexander can enter at his age, he still trains as if he were going to be competing next week. "Roller skating is more than a sport to me; it is a lifestyle," Alexander observed. "So, being back in the rink allows me to practice this lifestyle in the right place."

Meantime Bobby Hamblin, who is also the youngest to train in competition "figure roller skating" in his own family, was elsewhere on the floor, under the watchful eye of coach George Kolibaba, who's been training champions at The Oaks since 1970.

"Getting back into the rink restores a sense of normalcy for me," said Hamblin, a freshman at Roosevelt High School. "It's really – I mean really – nice to be able to skate again! I'm looking forward to next season when, hopefully, we can be getting back into competitions – and doing it without having to wear face masks! I'm really looking forward to it."

DAVID F. ASHTON - Oaks Park Roller Rink Coach Amy Hamblin displays a thank you note from Oaks Skate Club members for finally being allowed back into the rink. Bobby's mom, who is also a coach at the Oaks Park Roller Rink, said that the Oaks Skate Club once had more than 100 members. "Right now we have about 20 active figure skating club members.

"We're still working to put a safe plan in place for the speed-racer portion of our club to be able to come back and practice," Hamblin told THE BEE. "By the way; we're actively recruiting new skaters! Anyone interested should visit the Oaks Park website for contact information."

At our deadline, we asked Emily MacKay about rumors that Oaks Amusement Park itself might reopen, at least partially, this season. "We're optimistic that we'll be able to resume the operation of at least the rides and mini golf, albeit with capacity limitations, at some point this summer – but right now, it's too soon to say."

For information about both recreational and competition roller skating – including restrictions, ticketing, and costs, go online – www.oakspark.com


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