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Miner/My Turn: Pave way for skatepark

Back in March, I started a Facebook forum called “Skate Greenfield.” After numerous discussions with people in town about the skate park, I decided to get involved and see about re-initiating a process to get a new, professionally designed and town-owned skate park built.

The response from the public was immediate and completely favorable. Everybody I spoke to was enthusiastic about the project and before I knew it, I was being interviewed by The Recorder (where a staff editorial appeared days later, enthusiastically calling for a new park), Chris Collins had me and Francesca Passiglia do an interview on the radio and the Facebook page grew to almost 500 followers.

Since March, Skate Greenfield has promoted skateboarding with pop-up skate park events on a regular basis. The first of these occurred at the Little E, and was soon followed by a session at the Conway branch of Greenfield Savings Bank, the YMCA parking lot party, the July 4th celebration, the block party, a second YMCA session, the Turners Falls block party, Franklin County Fair Parade and Pumpkinfest. I have been asked to come and talk to Greenfield middle school students, who had many questions and hopes for a new park. YMCA director Bob Sunderland has expressed an interest in starting a skateboarding program at the Y and Phil Corrinet invited me to speak before the Kiwanis Club, an invitation which I gratefully accepted.

Wherever Skate Greenfield makes an appearance, it attracts excited attention both from youth and adults.

Clearly, people in town are excited about a skate park and want to see it happen. Usually the first question they ask me is, “Where will it be located?”

Where indeed. Siting is THE fundamental question. Until the town has committed to a site, there can be no progress toward the park. Numerous sites have been proposed by myself and others, and every one of them has been rejected. At present, the only site that has been proposed by the Recreation Department is the large parcel at the north end of Wells St., a privately owned property carrying a $250,000 price tag. While I certainly do not reject the idea out of hand, I would stress that a property purchase of that expense effectively doubles the budget for the park.

The most obvious location only occurred to me recently, when the problem of drug activity and drug related loitering in Hillside Park was addressed in a public meeting. When I visited the park, I was struck by what a pleasant spot it is and by how much larger it is than I had realized. If we put the skate park there, it will bring in a steady traffic of people who are there to use and enjoy the facility. Steady traffic will chase off drug dealers. Hillside Park is the perfect location for Greenfield’s new skate park.

Granted, Hillside does have several existing amenities already. It isn’t clear whether there is enough space for both a baseball field and a skate park; acknowledging this, I think the time has come to consider sacrificing one of our ball fields in favor of the skate park. No doubt this position will not be popular with ball players accustomed to having these fields available for their leagues, but consider this: our skateboarders see ball fields and tennis courts and facilities for other athletics throughout town. Often these facilities sit idle. We have a wealth of ball fields in our town, yet there is not one paved surface on which skateboarding is even officially allowed.

We have a responsibility to the growing numbers of young people who are attracted to skateboarding. Generally, the response to skating is to try to make people stop — to post “no skateboarding” signs and reprimand the skaters when those signs are ignored. If we design and build an outstanding park, skaters will find it more appealing than the parking lots and sidewalks in town. We’ll be giving them a chance to form a community, and for skaters of different ages to interact — something that’s happening more and more as first-generation skaters grow up and stay in the sport.

At present, there are no skate parks in Franklin County. Surely, the county seat should have the first. It is something that our town needs. It is strongly supported and wanted, by not just Greenfield’s youth, but by their parents, teachers and neighbors, many of whom are skaters themselves. Right now, we need our town officials to commit to the project and to the site, so that we can make this a reality. I hope we can soon schedule a public meeting to re-examine site options and bring our city another, much-needed first-class athletic facility.

Benjamin Miner is a Greenfield resident.

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