The fresh snow that fell this past week, and the storms expected in the days leading to Christmas, remind us that winter is here and likely here to stay until April.

With the short days and the cold weather, many of us probably bundle up inside our homes, our workplaces, or maybe shopping malls to keep from spending much time outside. If we want to get outside, for recreation or to gather as a community, do we still have places and programs to do that?

It would be easy to use the cliché of “back when I was a kid,” but whenever I make such statements, it’s quickly pointed out that I’m not old enough to say it. Nonetheless, growing up in New Auburn, you knew winter was coming when the field at Walton School off Seventh Street was converted to skating rinks, one for neighborhood hockey games and the other just for skating.

At Sherwood Heights, students would gather on weekends or during school events to slide down the hill into the fields behind the tennis courts. A long afternoon of sledding and hot chocolate was certainly a good workout and a fun opportunity to bring a neighborhood together.

Similar stories likely resonate with many longtime residents of Lewiston-Auburn. I’ve seen pictures of days when the river would freeze and pickup hockey would be played with crowds watching from either side. Large international snowshoeing festivals and competitions would be held in Lewiston, with a major draw being the French Canadians who had migrated here.

Retelling those stories brings back fond memories of a community whose members were connected to each other, in the winter. Warm weather activities are low-hanging fruit. Stroll down the Riverwalk and you’ll run into someone you know. Visit the Balloon Festival at Simard-Payne (Railroad) Park and you’ll likely strike up conversations as you wander about the community celebration.

But come winter, we seem to abandon our tradition of a community connected to winter sports. By leaving those behind, we’ve lost those same community connections.

There are, of course, skating rinks built in the occasional backyard and indoor rinks available for public skating for a fee. The city of Auburn and Lost Valley support the Winter Festival in February to bring some attention and life to the community in that cold winter month.

What of those neighborhood skating rinks? Why did we stop funding and maintaining them? Where are those sledding hills and neighbors and families sharing that tin of hot cocoa? Could we start a list of public places for this and promote it? Are there any more clubs for those who snowshoe or want to learn? And how could people know where to find them?

Winter in Maine is long and can be isolating for members of the community as we seem to hibernate, waiting until spring. It doesn’t need to be that way.

Both Lewiston and Auburn, and the sports clubs and associations in the community, should look at the available resources and consider how to support more neighborhood and community-based outdoor activities in the winter months.

Efforts such as “Take it Outside,” initiated by Gov. John Baldacci, encourage youths and families to get outside and enjoy nature. Why not put L-A at the top of the list for places that embrace that philosophy year round, even in Maine’s brutal winters?

Jonathan LaBonte, of New Auburn, is a columnist for the Sun Journal. E-mail: [email protected]


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