‘We don’t have a park anymore’

  • Tyler Merlini, 19, left, and Christian Brown, 22, right, both of Athol, ride scooters in an abandoned lot on Exchange Street, Tuesday. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Christian Brown rides a scooter in an abandoned lot on Exchange Street Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Silver Lake Park’s former skatepark. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • The site of the Silver Lake Park's former skatepark, as seen Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • No skateboarding signs outside of Athol Savings Bank, as seen Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • A rusty skateboard ramp at the Athol Department of Public Works, as seen Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

Recorder Staff
Friday, February 16, 2018

ATHOL — Christian Brown, 22, rode his scooter hard across an abandoned lot on Exchange Street earlier in the week, jumped from a curb and tail-whipped the board around its handle. Then he landed smoothly on cracked pavement.

Simultaneously, 19-year-old Tyler Merlini successfully completed a grind across a two-foot-high iron rail, custom made by the lot’s owner specifically for the two local riders.

“The reason why we skate here is because we don’t have a park anymore,” Brown said later as the two friends, both of whom attended Athol High School and often skated at Silver Lake Park before it was closed about six years ago, prepared to leave.

The skate park, constructed about 15 years ago through donations on a parcel of land beside Silver Lake, was closed because of rotting infrastructure and other safety concerns. Initially, support for the project was garnered by a group of volunteers, who presented the park as a safe place for local youths to practice.

“The funds that were raised were enough to see what you have there — the concrete pad and fence — but there was really no money left to buy rails and pipes, things like that,” said Douglas Walsh, superintendent of Athol’s Department of Public Works. The concrete pad and fence were installed by the town.

“A lot of people were making their own (ramps and rails), and unfortunately they were made out of plywood, lumber, and they fell into disrepair,” Walsh continued. Gradually, “things started to fall apart,” coming to a crescendo during the 2008 recession when there wasn’t money available to repair the park because “the town went through some very tough times — there were layoffs and hours cut just to keep the lights on.”

“Some of the folks who were involved with it moved, or their kids grew up. It puttered out. And the things that were there looked great when they had just been built, but plywood doesn’t last long,” Walsh said. Another problem, he noted, was that “a lot of the activity going on there was not skateboarding. Some things were happening that shouldn’t have been.”

Eventually, the town’s insurer advised that the skate park should be permanently shuttered for liability reasons. Soon after, the wooden ramps and rails were thrown away (an iron half-pipe can still be seen at the Department of Public Works).

“A lot of kids who I went to high school with grew up biking and skateboarding there,” Brown continued. “We were all devastated.”

Since it closed, the park’s concrete pad has been used as a skating rink during winter. And over the years, Brown said a few people have tried, but failed to raise money and rebuild the park. Notably, a petition started in 2013 garnered hundreds of signatures, but ultimately wasn’t successful. When the park was closed around that time, local volunteer Denise Sorese warned, in a newspaper article that if the old park was closed and a new skate park wasn’t constructed, skateboarders would be chased from block-to-block.

With no local skate park in Athol (or across the line in Orange), Brown said local teens and young adults now have to travel about 25 minutes to other skate parks in Hubbardston, Greenfield, Turners Falls, or find other options altogether. The latter solution has caused problems throughout town because skateboards can damage some surfaces including granite. Signs are posted prominently outside Athol Savings Bank warning away would-be skaters.

While rebuilding the skate park could be a good idea (possibly in a different location), and “you might find some kids who are saying ‘geez, we don’t have a skate park,’” Walsh said, “no one is coming into my office saying ‘we want a skateboard park.’”

Meanwhile, Brown, Merlini and others will continue to find other options. The pair can often be seen riding in the abandoned lot (they have permission to be there), and Brown said he hasn’t ruled out presenting the ongoing problem formally to town officials.