Our opinion: Town skate park deserves attention
When Manchester sets its mind to doing something, it usually does that thing well. Look around: Have you seen our amazing library? Notice how smoothly traffic moves around the roundabout? Didn't the visitors' center look great last summer and fall?
Some of those things took a long time and a significant amount of planning and effort. Some were shorter-term projects that just needed immediate focus and a bit of elbow grease.
Now, it's the skateboard park's turn for some effort, and a little push.
Five years ago, town meeting voters set aside $50,000 in seed capital for construction of a permanent skateboard facility in Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park. As we approach town meeting in 2018, that facility is still in the planning stages.
Meanwhile, the wooden ramps that have served in the interim as terrain for skateboarders and other athletes on wheels show the wear and tear of consistent use, and the effects of long-term exposure to Vermont weather.
At last Tuesday's Manchester Select Board meeting, Town Manager John O'Keefe said he does not believe those ramps can be salvaged. And Select Board member Greg Cutler pointed out the safety and liability concern they present.
It's time to do better. For those with any doubts, skateboarding long ago evolved into a legitimate sport that some kids enjoy a good deal more than traditional stick and ball sports. It encourages self-expression in motion as much as it demands balance, nerve and athletic ability. It deserves its own permanent, safe space at our park, as much as tennis, basketball or soccer.
With that in mind, a healthy crowd of skateboard enthusiasts, and those who just want riders to have a better place to play, attended last week's Select Board meeting and called for action. Their commitment was evident and their concerns were heard loud and clear. And those supporters now make up the core of a town skateboard park committee charged with moving the project forward. They've got ideas and energy to burn to make this a reality.
O'Keefe wants to see a plan put in place — a process by which the skate park will finally transition from idea to reality. That's a wise standard for any expenditure of town funds. But as the Select Board heard last week, there's also desire within the skateboard community, and among some town leaders, to improve and/or replace what's there now, as a way to give skaters an immediate short-term improvement. As Manchester resident Sylvia Jolivette noted, they've waited long enough.
It was pointed out that such a move would send a powerful message to area skaters, and to would-be donors, that this project has support and momentum. And it would surely address the safety concerns shared by town officials and skaters alike.
While there's concern about spending the funds allocated by town meeting on improvements rather than permanent structures, we see a reasonable argument for using a portion of that money for immediate repair and/or replacement of the existing ramps. It's going to take time to design a permanent park and raise the funds to build it, so it's hardly a waste of money to improve equipment for the short term until the long-term plan comes to fruition.
Thompson Memorial Park is, rightfully, a source of pride for this community. It offers more than home fields for youth sports programs, or a top-tier soccer venue in Applejack Field; it's a community gathering spot; a natural environment in which to enjoy sweeping mountain vistas and wide-open spaces; and a place for kids to play and for adults to stay active and fit.
A well-designed permanent skate park can only add to the park's appeal, as well as offer a safe space for kids who enjoy the thrill of defying gravity. Here's hoping the new committee succeeds in making that long-sought dream come true — and that area residents come forward to support it.
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