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16,000-foot ice trail, accessible playground to open Friday at Howard Park

SOUTH BEND, Ind.—Howard Park’s grand reopening is scheduled for Friday but twinkle lights are already on the trees and fresh ice is ready for skaters.

The $18 million dollar renovation of South Bend’s first and oldest park is nearly ready for visitors and the crew at the park is expecting quite a few.

“We do expect the masses to be here. I’ve been telling people, here’s your Black Friday plan: maybe sleep in a little bit or do your Black Friday, shopping eat your leftovers, take a nap then come join us here at Howard Park,” said Aaron Perri, Executive Director of South Bend Venues Parks & Arts.

Perri says a soft opening recently for employees and their families turned out to be successful, even though some attendees were a bit apprehensive about the 16,000 square foot ice trail.

“I got to ice skate with a young man named TJ. He showed up to the park with his grandmother and said there’s no way he’s getting on that, he’s scared, it’s just not for him but by the end of the night, he and I were whirling around the ice trail,” Perri said.

Wheelchairs are also welcome on the ice trail.

“We want to make sure Howard Park is for all,” Perri said.

Throughout the process of renovating the park, Perri says stories from the community have popped up along the way.

“We’re hearing stories and stories come out of the woodwork about engagements, and first kisses and first dates and my first job was driving the Zamboni, or things like that. Howard Park has been a special place in our city’s history and it will continue to be, even more so, into the future,” Perri said.

Howard Park was originally named for Judge Timothy Howard, who went on to write a history of St. Joseph County. For many years, the former floodplain was filled with refuse from the city and the park wasn’t dedicated until August 18, 1899.

While the new ice trail bears little resemblance to the one used by skaters in the 1950’s, it’s reminiscent of the park’s origins.

“We modeled the trail and the playground after the St. Joseph River,” Perri said, pointing to the green and blue-toned terrain colors of the playground and bends of the ice trail.

The 13,000 square foot ADA accessible playground is designed for ages 2 through 12. To access the playground in the winter months, visitors walk under the ice trail’s bridge, which will eventually feature a four-season community art piece.

Near the north end of the playground, a full service brewpub concept restaurant and bar will be available to visitors called Howard Park Public House. It’s scheduled to open sometime after the grand reopening event.

A smaller concession stand, Chocolate Café Express, will serve seasonal snack items.

Howard Park also features a community center, memorials, a Riverwalk trail, event lawn, and fountains.

The grand reopening event will feature food trucks, fireworks and live music. Festivities kick off around 4:30 p.m. on November 29 and a ribbon cutting ceremony will take place at six.

Olympic figure skater Brian Boitano and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg are scheduled to with be in attendance at the grand reopening.

The family-friendly event is free and open to the public. Parking will be offsite but shuttles will be available to bring guests to the park if they have to park a distance away. Parking information can be found here.

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