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September 27. 2012 12:34AM

Towns struggle to cope with vandalism, wear and tear on skate parks


Paul Wiley, 22, of Milford, does a “half cab” at the skate park at Keyes Field in Milford. (Jonah Calabria photo)

T hough they're immensely popular with young people, in some communities skate parks have become synonymous with trouble. Town officials across the Granite State are struggling to get a grip on the problems that arise when skaters get out of hand.

Police and the Recreation Committee in Windham recommended recently that the skate park at Griffin Park be closed permanently because problems with swearing, littering and the refusal of some skaters to wear helmets has been a drain on police resources.

According to New Hampshire Union Leader reports, police responded to the park 50 times in one season to deal with complaints about the young people who congregate there.

As Windham selectmen voted Monday to keep the park open and look for a solution to the problem of unruly skaters, Hopkinton officials were having a similar conversation.

Getting kids who use the Spirit Skate Park in Hopkinton to wear helmets has been an ongoing battle, School Superintendent Steven Chamberlin said. But he said according to the Local Government Center, the town's insurance carrier, staffing the park actually increases the town's liability versus establishing a “use at your own risk” policy.

Exeter Parks and Recreation Director Greg Bisson said the liability issue at his town's skate park is addressed by signs.

“Under RSA 507:B-11, if we post the rules and a skater doesn't follow them and hurts themselves, the town cannot be held liable, protecting the town and the residents,” Bisson said.

Behavioral problems

Keene was forced to close its skate park for a time because of vandalism, according to Andrew Bohannan, director of parks, recreation and cemeteries.

“Unfortunately it is always the small minority that ruins it for the positive elements of providing a skate park for the community,” said Bohannan. “We have closed the park for vandalism behavior, but ultimately, if we don't provide a place for kids to express themselves they will find another location and it becomes a greater issue than what it needs to be.”

Bohannan believes that getting adults to take an interest — as they do with Little League or other sports — could improve the situation.

A little supervision

In Merrimack, Parks and Recreation Director Sherry Kalish said supervision is key. The park is only open during the hours when an attendant is on hand, and local police offer support when needed.

Milford Parks and Recreation Director Nicole Banks said having a park ranger on board during the busy summer months has helped minimize problems at the skate park at Keyes Field, but the real trick has been getting the skateboarders to take ownership of their park.

A group of kids got together and not only “raised money (for repairs to the park) in a matter of weeks, but took on the tough task of communicating with other users about things like trash pickup and proper language usage,” said Banks.

The town has also relied on the law in a novel way to keep skaters in check.

“To also address behavior issues the town instituted a policy of zero-tolerance whereby improper behavior results in suspension from the park,” Banks said, “and violating the suspension subjects the person to arrest and prosecution for trespassing.”

The price of recreation

Communities also struggle with the cost of maintaining their skate parks.

“The most important considerations when installing a skate park are materials and location,” said Banks. “The materials component involves a pretty large trade-off. Cement (which is what we have in Milford) is the easiest to maintain and longest lasting, though not the most popular among users. We've had less than $1,000 in repairs to the park over its lifetime.”

Keene has spent several thousand dollars every year just painting over graffiti.

“One of our biggest problems is the design of the structures, steel and wood, a combination that doesn't last long in the New Hampshire winters,” said Bohannan.

Hopkinton's ramps are made of wood, and though the materials needed aren't terribly expensive, installing new planks is time-consuming for members of the DPW. Selectman George Langwasser said he would like to see the volunteers who stepped up to create the park share some ideas about how to keep it open for the long term.

“We don't want to get to a point where we have to shut it down,” Langwasser said.

Worth the effort

“I do believe kids need activities, and if skateboarding is their choice, then they should have a skate park,” said Art Psaledas, director of Parks and Recreation in Londonderry. “I believe that a vast majority of the skateboarders are respectful and do not cause any problems.”

For some kids, skating is an alternative to highly competitive team sports, said Bisson.

“These types of activities may bring kids out of their shells that may not have been involved in other activities,” said Bisson. “Thus, they should be supported.”

And time away from TV and computers is desperately needed, Chamberlin said.

“Every day I drive by the skate park and see teenagers moving,” said Chamberlin. “They're away from the screens and exercising. We want the kids here and we want them to be safe.”

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Nancy Bean Foster may be reached at nfoster@newstote.com.


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