Miner/My Turn: Make Greenfield skateboard park happen

Back in October, at a special Community Relations and Education committee meeting, there was a long and what felt like a promising discussion about the need for a skateboard park and a dog park in Greenfield.

At that time (and in the months since) there has been much concern expressed about drug dealing in Hillside Park. I have gone on the record at least three times to promote Hillside Park as a potential location for a skate park, but was told by the Recreation Commission that there was no room for a skate park there and that the open space was needed for baseball. I stand by my reasoning and want to restate it here:

If a park is attracting drug traffic, that is because the park is failing to attract a steady flow of people who are there to use the space legitimately. Increase the traffic of people who are attracted to the recreational offerings of the space and the drug traffic will disappear. I fail to see how a completely season-specific “splash park” will accomplish this.

I could go on a frustrated rant about why we need a skate park, but to do so would be to miss a larger and I think more pressing point: Our town is neglecting the middle and high school youth demographic. The Recorder recently spent an entire week publishing articles about the addiction problem in our town, in which were stated the same tired platitudes about the need to “educate” young people about the dangers of drugs. This is of course necessary and sensible, but it is hardly a new idea. We’ve been “educating” youth about the perils of drug use for at least a generation now; it’s practically part of the public education curriculum. Yet people — and youths — still become addicts.

It wasn’t so long ago that we had a youth center, and thereby provided a destination and activities for young people to meet up, hang out, and have fun together. Turners Falls has finally approved construction of a skate park, because they understand that the kids who aren’t attracted to team sports or other extracurriculars offered by public schools are the ones who need these kinds of things the most.

But youth in Greenfield — the ones who aren’t on the football team or the chess club, the ones we amusingly and insultingly refer to as “at risk” — are sent the signal that they are not important and are not valued.

Why would they think this? Look around. There’s always a budget for another parking lot overhaul, or a parking garage, or a transportation center, or another playground for the little kids. Young skaters see numerous ball fields which sit idle for most of the year, while there exists not one paved surface where skateboarding is even allowed.

Through my skate park advocacy, I’ve met a lot of town kids, and when I run into them they always want to know the latest news about the skate park. I don’t look forward to telling them that Hillside Park (which we’d been told couldn’t accommodate further developments) is now getting a “splash park” — i.e., another diversion for toddlers. Greenfield could learn from the example of Cellucci Park in Hudson. Celluci Park incorporates a splash park and a skate park in the same facility. The result is a vibrant, popular and well-used park, which provides recreation for a diversity of youths, from pre-schoolers to young adults and which offers an attraction, which is popular any time of the year when snow isn’t on the ground.

But any discussion of incorporating such a feature to Hillside Park has been dismissed. How is this justified?

As a municipality, we have a responsibility to provide recreational alternatives to our middle and high school aged youths. I call upon the mayor’s office to make youth/young adult services a priority. We can start by getting serious about a site commitment for the skate park. There is also a very real need for a return of town-sponsored youth programs. In the face of all that Greenfield’s town government sees fit to prioritize — and, far more importantly, in the face of a serious and growing drug scourge — how can we not prioritize a youth commission or a Boys and Girls club in our town? How can we continue to prioritize playgrounds for young children without funding and building facilities those children can enjoy once they outgrow them?

The Rec Department has made the town a better place for parents and youngsters over the past several years, and I am grateful for what they have done. Now, we need them to branch out and address the needs of a broader demographic. Young adults who feel included and valued grow up to be invested citizens.

Benjamin Miner is a Greenfield resident.

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