The final hurdle facing a new, Turlock ice skating rink was cleared Thursday evening, as the Stanislaus County Planning Commission unanimously approved the development.
The new permit will allow R.A.M. Farms to operate its seasonal pumpkin patch and corn maze at 716 N. Daubenberger Rd. for the foreseeable future, expanding to include a temporary ice skating rink and Christmas tree lot in the winter months. In the two previous years, R.A.M. Farms has had to seek re-approval annually.
According to Ron Macedo, R.A.M. Farms owner and a Turlock Irrigation District Director, the setup would be a portable, temporary, lighted rink, 60-feet by 80-feet in size. The system, powered by a large refrigerator unit, would create a good, consistent ice surface for skating.
“It's not quite (a) regulation (size ice rink), but it's a pretty expensive endeavor,” said Macedo. “Every square-foot you go adds on quite a bit more.”
The rink will open this winter, running from from the Friday after Thanksgiving through the second weekend of January each year. The rink will be open weekdays from 12 noon to 8 p.m., and weekends from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.. New sessions will begin every two hours.
Seasonal music will play, and a snack bar will offer food.
The Stanislaus County Planning Commission received one letter in opposition to the development, citing increased traffic, litter, noise, trespassing, vandalism, and lack of parking as likely impacts. R.A.M. Farms has implemented additional parking and sound restrictions to address those concerns, and employs a security guard on the weekend.
Most other calls were in support, saying the development enhances the community and provides a recreational activity for the area. No one voiced opposition to the development at Thursday's meeting.
One call was fielded in support of the pumpkin patch, but opposed to the ice skating rink which the caller believed was not related to agriculture. As the land is zoned for agriculture, non-farming uses must promote agriculture.
But Commissioners believed the ice skating rink was related to agriculture, as it helps build bridges between farms and urban life.
“It's really been a benefit to the community out there, and it's been great for agricultural, connecting the community to agriculture,” said Stanislaus County Planning Commissioner Ronald Peterson. “The community definitely supports it.”
The pumpkin patch and corn maze have been hugely successful in introducing children to agriculture, Macedo said. Hundreds of young people visit R.A.M. Farms daily, seeing first-hand how plants grow.
Inevitably, the childrens' first question is the same, Macedo says: Do you grow those pumpkins yourself?
“Well, sure I do,” Macedo says. “It's a great opportunity (to talk about agriculture).”
That's a valuable, rare opportunity, Stanislaus County Planning Commissioner Marc Etchebarne said, even in ag-centric Stanislaus County.
“Thank you for bringing this to the youth of California, for them to experience agriculture,” Etchebarne said. “A lot of these kids, they have no idea.”