From the Archives: Carpenter’s Pond AKA Old Slippery: Ice Skating Atop the Palisades
By Tom Meyers January 18, 2015
The Borough of Fort Lee opened the door to the past in a grand way this month – the ice skating rink in the Palisade Interstate Park along Hudson Terrace behind the Fort Lee High School has been refurbished and opened for the first time in almost four decades. The borough has a 99-year lease with the Palisade Interstate Park, which allows the borough to access the PIP parks in Fort Lee including the one on Hudson Terrace. Many people born in the Coytesville section of Fort Lee, including myself, have fond memories of skating at this site in the 1960’s and 1970’s before it was closed. Thanks to Mayor Mark Sokolich, the borough council and the General Services department under Mike Maresca, this skating rink is open for business. When the green flag flies feel free to skate until 10 PM. There are new lights and as the Mayor promised on its opening day, if enough citizens use the rink next year we can add other elements to it to make it a first class winter recreational facility for children and adults alike.
History always is visible if we look close enough and thanks to our friends at the Palisade Interstate Park and their archive of photos they post on their face book page we can reconnect to the another ice skating rink in Fort Lee which dates to 1917 – Carpenter’s Pond. Carpenter’s pond was originally one and a half acres in size. Over the decades thousands of Fort Lee kids and adults alike skated the winters away from the eras of skating stars Sonja Henie to Peggy Fleming.
The last heyday of this magical skating oasis was the 1960’s into the early 1970’s when local legend Bunty Hill, then in his 60’s and 70’s, taught us how to skate on this frozen pond atop his beloved Palisades, sometimes called Old Slippery by himself. In the summers of my youth we as the kids from Coytesville used to walk down the Thousand Steps, head south along the trails and past remnants of the beaches of the Hudson River. We would walk under the bridge and in the haze of the summer sun we spied the shadowy figure of a barrel chested Paul Bunyan doing his calisthenics on his dock at the boat launch on Hazards Beach. As we shouted at him and ran to join Bunty on his dock he greeted us with a shout of “Hi Pals, where’s the action???” Soon thereafter he would have us doing fancy dives he taught us off his dock and into the green, brown, murky and salty Hudson River of the 1960’s. What a childhood, swimming with a view of the George Washington Bridge above us standing out like a giant colossus and the mystical Manhattan skyline in the distance. We were caught between two worlds but happy in the world we knew, that of the river, our river, and our pal Bunty Hill. Bunty was a lifeguard first at that very Hazards Beach from the 1910’s through 1931 and the opening of the GWB. Thereafter Bunty was lifeguard at Palisades Amusement Park until his retirement. Once retired he spent his summer days at his dock. Winter was spent hiking the trails above and below the cliffs. And winter also was skating at Carpenter’s Pond. Bunty would lace up his skates and teach us how fancy moves, much as he taught us how to swim, with tons of encouragement and laughs.
So as we enjoy the newly reopened skating rink behind Fort Lee High School, let’s recall a skating rink from the past atop the Palisades…and if you decide to hike up there don’t be surprised if your not transported back in time to see a vision of Bunty skating and beckoning you to join him for a bit.
The Fort Lee Museum will be closed during the month of February to set up for our next exhibit: Fox Studio Centennial 1915-2015: From Fort Lee To Century City.
Fort Lee Historical Society 309 Main Street,Fort Lee NJ,US,07024