MIDDLETOWN—DeShawn Kelly, 20, works a job to support himself and his daughter and also skateboards whenever he can. He’s been waiting a long time for a safe and challenging skatepark.
Kelly, with other skateboarders and BMX riders, spoke at a public hearing on April 21 to tell the city what they would like in a proposed $400,000 13,000 square-foot outdoor skatepark. Speakers expressed the hope the skatepark will be open not only to skateboarders, but BMX riders, inline skaters, and scooter riders.
Four companies were on hand to listen to their recommendations. Mayor DeStefano, and councilmen Kleiner and Masi also attended with questions and words of support. The park is planned in an open field near the future Middletown portion of the Heritage Trail.
American Ramp Company (ARC), California Skatepark, Spohn Ranch Skateparks, and local company Monaco Landscaping listened to suggestions from local skateboarders and BMX riders.
Several skaters prefer a plaza-like setting that fits in with the character of the city with all the challenging obstacles of a good skatepark. Most parks feature half- or quarter-pipes (curved structures with a flat bottom), verts (ramps that transition from a horizontal base to a vertical top section), stairs, rails, ledges, benches, banks, gaps, and transitioned elements in a plaza setting.
Veteran skateboarder Louis Peterson said he’s concerned about the surface. “It’s got to be smooth thick concrete with no cracks” he said and the site should be well-drained. Another local park closed because of a worn surface.
Peterson favors the street style of park: “more street style, plaza style, that imitates things that kids were skating on.”
He does not recommend a bowl—an enclosed area of quarter-pipes that curve in corners–but asked for more challenging obstacles. “As far as the obstacles, you are going to have a lot of money there if you stay away from that bowl.”
Kelly agreed. “We could probably have a couple quarter-pipes put up to imitate a bowl.”
The mayor and Masi asked about hours the skatepark should stay open. Older skateboarders said they work and recommended later hours. “I think the park should be opened up a lot later than 6 or 8,” Kelly said. “There are a lot of people who don’t have the time to skate there during the day.”
Kelly strongly recommended sufficient lighting around the park. “There has got to be lights at the park to light it up after the sun goes down.”
The skateboarders said BMX bikes should be allowed in the skatepark. Even though bikes are heavier and bikers have a greater impact on the surface, Peterson said “Honestly, everybody needs a chance to have fun here.”
Zachary Edward who attended an information session earlier in the week rides a scooter. Peterson described a New Hampshire skatepark “full of racer scooters.” He noted a Florida skatepark where “there were bikes, scooters, and skateboards and it’s still in phenomenal condition.”
Another amenity suggested was a water fountain because “skaters get really thirsty,” according to Kelly. The mayor said a grant request was submitted for a restroom facility near the park that would also serve the Heritage Trail was denied. The city will re-apply this year.
DeStefano thanked the speakers for their input and said city officials will tour other local skateparks to “see how they operate and get some feedback from the municipality on some of the issues you raised.”
Great for the Community
There are an estimated 13 million skateboarders in the U.S. and about 2,000 skateparks.
Skateboarding is a way to have fun with friends, get exercise, and avoid a local drug culture. “These previously disenfranchised skaters, who once ran from the police, find themselves working with the police and city and community as a whole,” according to the California Skateboard website.
Skateboarding enthusiasts say it can allow at-risk youngsters to develop a healthy, level-headed approach to life and career. According to nationally-known skateboarder Dan Hughes, “Skateboarding reaches these ‘at risk’ youth like no other sport. And it’s cool too.”
And skaters say they build self-esteem as they master their sport. David Perez, 18, said he really felt good when he completed his first 180. He felt he had to try the day before school started. “I said [to myself] that I really need a banger, something you need to make you feel good, something you really put work into it that you could get hurt on.” He did it.
All age groups can enjoy a skatepark. “On any given day at a well-functioning and supported skatepark, you can see all age groups, from the 5-year-old supervised by a parent, to the group of teenagers having their own skate session, to the older skaters who love the sport as much or more than the teens,” according to the Spohn Ranch website.
Veteran skaters take a personal pride in the park and develop into coaches for the younger kids and stewards of the park, according to the Spohn Ranch website.
Skateboarding is a great spectator sport. The Middletown site will allow people to watch as individuals traverse the Heritage Trail, walk through downtown, or look down on the site from their windows in nearby apartments.
Miki Vuckovich, executive director of the Tony Hawk Foundation, said, “a well-built skatepark that reflects the needs of the local skaters is a hive of creative, physical activity. It’s an inherently positive institution.”
Challenging Sport Alternative
Skateboarding challenges young athletes who choose not to participate in team sports. Many young kids are not attracted to traditional team sports but still like some social interaction during physical activity.
Skaters need to be focused and alert, particularly in a skatepark, to maintain their balance and to perform tricks and maneuvers.
Kelly said the first time completing the Ollie was exciting, where the rider and board leap into the air without the use of the rider’s hands. “It took me forever to learn. Once I learned that, everything else came pretty quick.” He said it takes “a lot of coordination, dedication, balance, to be able to keep going, fall, get back up, and keep going.”
After years of waiting and lobbying, skateboarders in Middletown seem hopeful that they will have a place to play without being chased away. Skateboarding is presently illegal in Middletown.
Raelynn Alvies, assistant superintendent of the Rec Center, said some skateboarders would add wax to curbs for certain tricks or jump in and out of traffic on a busy roadway. Many long-time residents worried about injuries to the skateboarders in a crash.
“We’ve been kicked out of everywhere you can possibly imagine in Middletown,” said veteran skateboarder Panya Mouangkhoua.
Luke Snavely of ARC came to an information session earlier in the week to meet with local skateboarders. He listened to them and offered some possibilities. Snavely said the construction budget will put the city “on the map” as a skateboard destination. “With $400,000 you can do a lot. This is going to be a big deal for Middletown.”
Skatepark designs that see the least amount of issues are open and blended naturally with their surrounding environment—a public space.
Veteran skateboarder Eric said he never expected to see a skatepark built. “I applaud you guys for even doing this because I thought I’d never see this in my lifetime,” he said to city officials. The project is moving forward and Eric may still see one. Companies must submit bids by June 21.
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