GARDINER — Skateboarders finally have a place to skate in the city without being told by police to stop.
The Gardiner City Council approved a committee recommendation last week to designate part of the Waterfront Park as a temporary location for skateboarders for the summer or until a more permanent located can be established.
The decision was the result of a small group of young skateboarders and their parents working with the city staff, the Police Department and volunteers to find a place to skate freely and safely.
It’s illegal to ride a skateboard on public roadways or sidewalks, Police Chief James Toman said. It’s a safety issue, and police occasionally have responded to complaints of skateboarding in roads or parking lots, he said. That’s left skateboarders with the options of traveling to skate parks in other communities, using their driveways if they have them or running afoul of police.
“We’re creating a negative animosity with the police and the kids,” said Nate McKenna, a parent of one of the skateboarders, at Wednesday’s council meeting.
The ultimate goal of the group of parents and their children is to build a public skate park somewhere in Gardiner for skateboarders or other similar sports such as inline skating or freestyle bicycle motocross, called BMX. The Parks and Recreation Committee and a subcommittee for the skate park have been looking into options for several months.
The Waterfront Park location, the southernmost parking lot rotary now blocked off by plastic barricades, isn’t considered a permanent solution, Mayor Thomas Harnett said. Another location that emerged as a longer-term location and potentially a permanent spot is the parking lot of the now-torn-down O.C. Woodman School on School Street, between Dresden Avenue and Pleasant Street.
Committee members and councilors said that could be the ideal location for a skate park, but more work still must be done, including repaving it, before it can be used in any capacity.
The group of parents and skateboarders already has secured $1,000 in grant funding from the Orton Family Foundation through the city’s two-year Heart & Soul community project, which concluded at the start of this year.
Jennifer McKenna, one of the parents leading the effort, said the funds will be used to study what locations and skate park designs would work for the community and as a start to the fundraising that will be needed to build the park.
McKenna said she and her husband, Nate, 37, take their son, Gabe, to other communities in Maine, such as Augusta and Portland, or out of state to skate. Communities with quality skate parks are known as destinations for skateboarders and their families, she said.
For instance, Augusta, since building a new concrete skate park in 2010, has a reputation among the skateboarding community as a place for families to stop at on a trip, she said.
“We all do agree that it’s really important as a community that we embrace these youths and give them a safe place to play. It’s like any community park. It’s just a place to give them a chance to be outdoors and play,” said Jennifer McKenna, 35.
The McKennas’ son, Gabe, a 15-year-old freshman at Gardiner Area High School, said he thinks a skate park would be a draw for people in other communities. He said people already have talked about wanting to see one built in Gardiner.
“A lot of skaters around the state, they really want to see it so they can come here. They can spend money here too,” he said. “I think the skate park would just make the economy better, because when I travel, I spend a lot of money outside our community.”
The group in Gardiner is receiving support and assistance from one of the major supporters in the development of the Augusta skate park, Tobias Parkhurst.
Parkhurst, a professional skateboarder-turned-downtown Augusta developer, led much of the effort to secure funds and construct the skate park on Bangor Street. That park was completed in two stages for roughly $100,000, well below the original projection of $300,000, Parkhurst said.
He said he’s excited to see the project develop in Gardiner, not just so he eventually can skate it, but because the youth have taken such an interest in making it happen.
“When you’ve got a group of kids that step up and say, âThis is something that’s important to us. This is something that we’re willing to be advocates of’, let’s get behind them,” Parkhurst said. “We’ve got the oldest state in the country, with kids leaving as fast as they can.”
The Gardiner group will be looking to do something similar to the park in Augusta by raising funds through private donations and foundations, but the park itself probably will be smaller, Jennifer McKenna said.
She said there are still hurdles, such as working with neighbors in the O.C. Woodman area, that the committee needs to get over; but she’s confident the group will address any concerns people might have about noise or the size of it.
City officials expressed support for the project at Wednesday’s meeting, and the council unanimously approved the Parks and Recreation recommendation.
Councilor Scott Williams, who works at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Gardiner, said the lack of a skate park is the biggest complaint of youth in the city.
“I’m very excited that we’re actually doing something about it, because this problem has been around for a while,” he said Wednesday.
Skateboarders used to be able to skate behind the former train station across from the Hannaford supermarket on Maine Avenue, but that’s been closed to them for several years. A key for a skate park to be successful is for it to be visible, unlike the location behind the train station, Parkhurst said.
“If you put a state park that nobody can see, people that don’t want to be seen will go there, and that’s not always your best-case scenario for a recreational facility,” he said. “You don’t put a basketball court where no one can see it.”
Skateboarders already are using the blocked-off location at the Waterfront Park.
On Monday, when the temperature reached 60 degrees, Chris Colby, 21, of Randolph, skateboarded there while waiting for his girlfriend to get her nails done.
“I just saw that and that just blew my mind, that it was swept and there were no rocks,” he said. “That’s just unheard of, so I took mad advantage.”
Colby, who has been skateboarding in the area for most of his life, said he and his friends just skate on streets and in parking lots because they don’t have a designated location to go.
“It’s been a while since any of the kids around really had a permanent place around here to be kids or mid-level teenagers,” he said. “They have a park for kids to play, but they don’t have a place for teenagers to hang and mingle and have the place monitored.”
Gabe McKenna said he and his friends have skated at the waterfront a couple of times since councilors approved it at their meeting. He said he likes having a place they can call their own, even if it’s just a small section of pavement.
“The only challenge has been to try to find a place to skate safely without anybody having to hassle us,” McKenna said. “My hopes for the skate park are that it will be by a nice environment for pretty much anybody who doesn’t do any conventional sports, that you’ll have a place to be, and it will be a safe place so you don’t get in any trouble.”