Towns recognizing skate parks as a hot commodity

News Southtowns Bureau
The idea started in Grand Island, on a small scale, three years ago.

With $500 and some lumber, the town built a poor man's skate park, a designated place in Veterans Park for skateboarders to practice their moves - out of the way of traffic and off the steps of local businesses.

It caught on so well that the second year, the budget grew twelvefold, and the town fenced off the area, added concrete barriers and bought some manufactured equipment - some launches, ramps and a quarter tube.

Each year, it attracts more kids.

"It makes people feel more comfortable about the sport," said one teen skateboarder named Brian. "I think it's really great to have somewhere to go to skateboard. Sometimes if you go to the plaza to skate, you get hassled."

This summer, Hamburg town officials are taking Grand Island's lead, and even taking it to a grander scale, with $75,000 set aside to build a skate park. It will be enough to pave an area, fence it in, buy heavy-duty equipment, probably made of steel, and then set out the welcome mat.

"I think we'll be drawing kids who right now are skateboarding and Rollerblading on the street," said Councilwoman Kathleen Courtney Hochul. "I want teenagers to feel like there's a home for them."

"Any time you can have things for kids to do that's constructive and organized, it's an advantage," said Carmen Kesner, the Town of Hamburg's assistant chief of police. "It's so important to keep kids busy doing things they like."

For years, merchants in the Village of Hamburg have complained about the disruption caused by skateboarders downtown. "No skateboarding" signs throughout the large parking lot behind Main Street are evidence of the ongoing battle.

"It becomes such a nuisance because people don't want kids going up on the curbs or out in the parking lot behind the banks. People see it as a problem," said Dennis Gleason, the village's police chief. "Skateboarders are not going away. It's not a fad."

While there seems to be consensus on the need for a skate park in Hamburg - with the closest private skate park about 15 miles away, in Springville - there is dissension on the question of where to build it. Town officials favor putting it on the former Nike base, along with much of the town's other recreation facilities. Village officials, though, would like to see the skate park in the village, so it's easier for more kids to get to.

Either way, many local leaders say it's long past due that town governments start adding skate parks to their list of recreation options. Outside Hamburg, other town recreation directors are starting to mull the idea over, too.

In the Town of Tonawanda, for instance, Recreation Director Dan Wiles says he has no immediate plans for a skate park, but such a venture is part of the town's five-year plan.

"I think it would be a nice thing to have," he said. "It would reach older teens, a segment of that teen population we're missing out on."

That segment has long gotten a bad rap, and that's been a barrier for too long for skateboarders getting the attention and respect of town officials, says Linda Tufillaro, Grand Island's recreation director.

"They may have tattoos and piercings and jeans with holes in them, but that's just them," she said. "It's like kids playing baseball, only they skateboard. They're just as athletic, if not more so."