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Skatepark close after 20 years

November 20, 2012
By Peggy Wiltberger , Saranac Lake SkatePark Committee

It seems that almost everyone in our community agrees that Saranac Lake youth deserve a quality skateboard park. Some myths persist about skateboarding, but most recognize it as good, clean fun. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, skateboarding is safer than many popular youth sports including basketball, soccer, hockey and baseball.

Skateboarding develops physical fitness, balance and coordination. It promotes self-esteem and goal setting. It attracts a wide variety of youth, with peak participant age being 9 to 14. Skateboarding is a wonderful physical activity for kids who strive for individual achievements. Skateboarding kids advance at their own pace, supported by their peers. At a skatepark, you sit on the bench only to take a rest. Skateboarding is an attractive option for families who are unable to meet the time or financial commitments that other sports often require.

Most of the community agrees on the need for a skatepark. Now we just need to agree on a location.

In the "Public Skatepark Development Guide," Peter Whitley puts the challenge this way: "Many communities feel that skateparks are exclusive facilities only appealing to a small number of local teenagers. This presumes that no sane adult would want to enjoy a skatepark and that younger children should not be interacting with teenagers. It also leads to the erroneous conclusion that the skatepark should be located 'somewhere that the teenagers can do what they want without impacting the well-being of anyone else.' That 'somewhere' is usually on the outskirts of town. Sadly, it's still too common to witness ... professional planners establish criteria for placing new skateparks where it's least likely to offend rather than where it's most likely to succeed."

With thousands of skateparks in the U.S., there is a wealth of information on how to choose a successful site. The SkatePark Committee has met with three professional skatepark developers, and they have confirmed our understanding of important site criteria. The most essential are:

-Walking distance from schools and residential areas via a safe route

-An open, visible location

-A location that encourages multiple uses. A busy, existing park is ideal.

-Accessibility to other village services.

A review of 17 sites has been conducted. We are glad that Mayor Rabideau asserted that "all the alternatives (sites) will be broached here to go through your (the SkatePark Committee's) criteria. Hopefully we will find something that works."

What is needed is the will to choose the most appropriate site and to work with those who have concerns to find solutions. We need the will to do what is right for our youth. The committee wants to build a beautiful, fun, safe, successful skatepark. We are very mindful of concerns that neighbors have and are eager to work with them for satisfactory solutions. We have spoken to skatepark managers in more than 30 communities, consulted experts and studied the literature. A Portland, Ore., study of neighborhood impact showed that there is a significant difference between the negative perception and the reality of skateparks.

The SkatePark Committee has identified four locations that meet the criteria for a successful skatepark. These are Ampersand Park, behind the former village offices, William Morris Park and Riverside Park. Two village board trustees, the community development director, the village manager, the Department of Public Works manager and the Skate Park Committee assessed three sites over several meetings, and there was overwhelming consensus from the five village representatives that Ampersand was the most appropriate. Each of these sites is acceptable to the committee; we just need a decision.

Depending on the location chosen, we may not be able to accept the ramps so generously offered by North Elba.

One concern expressed at the Nov. 13 village board meeting was that Broadway and Ampersand is too dangerous, with traffic and hills where a skateboarder may get hurt. However, all the alternate sites have traffic and hills, some much busier and steeper. Ampersand Park has safe sidewalk access from schools and neighborhoods without crossing major intersections and a traffic light to cross Broadway. Skateboarding in streets is dangerous and is the primary reason the CPSC recommends that municipalities create a safe alternative by building skateparks.

Skateparks are the solution, not the problem.

If located at Ampersand, the design would be a concrete park, which is the quietest option. With appropriate fencing and vegetation, we can protect neighbors' privacy and have noise levels similar to current park activities.

Unfortunately, there are not many appropriate sites to choose from, and the Ampersand location will require accommodation by some park users for the benefit of our youth. There are five tennis courts in the community. Each one is someone's favorite. Must our youth be relegated to a marginal area inappropriate for a skateboard park rather than ask fit adults to drive to an alternate tennis court?

I recently met a dad with three skateboarding kids. He said it would be wonderful to be at Ampersand Park, where his younger children can enjoy the swings while the older ones skateboard. The addition of a skatepark there would make it a true family park, providing fun for tweens and teens, which is lacking now. A 2006 survey of 81 residents in the Broadway-Ampersand area found 89 percent approved of a skatepark at that site.

There is obviously not an easy solution, or we would not be without a site after eight-plus years of planning. It has not been from lack of effort: three different sites behind the village offices, two surveys and engineering plans prepared. We have lost a $3,000 grant due to delays, a larger grant is now in jeopardy, and we have been hampered in our efforts to apply for grant money due to a lack of firm plans.

Two generations of skateboarders in Saranac Lake are still waiting for a site.

The skateboarders, with the committee, have washed cars, held band nights, taught skateboarding, sold Christmas wreaths, managed the Olga Run and exhibited at community events. With more than $71,000 raised or pledged, we need only $40,000 more.

After 20 years of effort, we are ready to build a skatepark. Please choose one of the three sites at the next village board meeting so we can have the Saranac Lake SkatePark open in August 2013!


Peggy Wiltberger lives in Saranac Lake and is chairwoman of the Saranac Lake SkatePark Committee.



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