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Backyard Rinks Track Climate Change

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Backyard Rinks Track Climate Change 5:06

Charlie Mattina stands in Beasley Park, gesturing at the wooden enclosure that he helped to set up on the mostly green, slightly muddy field.

"The truth is, we've seen that it's coming to this," the 50-year-old Hamilton native said.

A string of mild winters, the result of a global rise in temperatures, has changed his approach to crafting a do-it-yourself skating rink.

Four years ago the Beasley Neighbourhood Association, of which Mattina is a longtime member, built its first annual ice pad in the park. Volunteers packed snow into a giant rectangle, creating a reservoir to fill with water.

"At that time, there was a lot of snow," Mattina said on Wednesday. "Now there isn't."

Enlisting the help of community members and kids filing out of Dr. J.E. Davey Elementary School, Mattina forges ahead with his crafty adaptation, lining the ground with an expansive white tarp and flooding the construction with water from a fire hose.

With luck, the makeshift pond will yield a couple of weeks of solid skating this winter. But regardless of how well the ice fares, the rink could help out in an unexpected way: contributing to scientific research.

RinkWatch

Mattina has signed up for a new online project called RinkWatch. The site, created by a group of geographers at Wilfred Laurier University, invites people to register online and record the state of their homemade ice surfaces.

Researchers will use the data — when the flooding is done, how many weeks the ice is useable —  to track the progression of climate change.

According to Robert McLeman, one of the project's creators, it's also a chance to educate Canadians about the real-world implications of climate change, an issue that can seem abstract when discussed on TV or in the classroom.

"People appreciate the scale of the problem, but don't understand personally how it fits in with their life," McLeman, an associate professor of geography and environmental science, told CBC Hamilton. 

"We thought this sort of provides an opportunity to connect people to environmental research literally through their own backyards."

He said the website, which has already registered 375 rinks across Canada and the northern U.S., has spawned some unintended, but very welcome uses. Participants, he said, are sharing ice-making tips with each other, creating a richer, more interactive online community than he'd anticipated.

"People who are coming to it really just are passionate."

'A presence'

But to Mattina, making friends through the internet isn't the motivation for making ice. Rather, he's building the rink in spite of the weather to foster local, in-the-flesh community relations.

"Six, seven years ago, it had a notorious reputation," he said of the Beasley Park, situated in one of Hamilton's most underprivileged neighbourhoods. "You wouldn't have wanted to be standing here right now."

Public skating, one of the many activities the neighbourhood association has brought to the park, wards off of crime and helps give children a safe place to play, he said.

"Look how many kids are around," Mattina added, waving to friendly faces and inviting others to help flood the rink.

"This is just a presence."

Do you have a backyard rink? Send us pictures of it, either by emailing hamilton@cbc.ca or by tweeting @cbchamilton. (Use the hashtag #HamOntRinks.)