Group rallying for new Middlebury skatepark

MIDDLEBURY – The town of Middlebury is rich in places for fun, exercise and relaxation. There’s the municipal recreation facility on Creek Road, the Memorial Sports Center, several school gyms, multiple playgrounds and playing fields, and a rich complement of diversions on Middlebury College campus, some of which are made available to the general public.

But something is still missing, according to a growing segment of Middlebury’s population:

A skatepark.

You know, a concrete surface replete with halfpipes, rails, ramps and other props where you can catch some air under your skateboard to complete a gnarly frontside 720, an air walk, an alley-oop, an ollie, or even a “darkslide, ”For the more advanced.

“We want to make it abundantly clear there’s a demand (for a local skateboard),” said Ethan Murphy, co-leader of the Middlebury Skatepark Coalition.

The group, which currently counts more than 50 members, is striving to get a skatepark in Middlebury.

Murphy grew up in South Royalton, where he enthusiastically took to skateboarding – once a diversion enjoyed mainly on the West Coast, and now a bonafide sport and Olympic event.

Most of those who skateboard are passionate about the sport, finding it more alluring than the more conventional school offerings of football, baseball, basketball, soccer, field hockey and softball.

Murphy, as a young lad, enjoyed most sports, but skateboarding had – and still has – a special place in his heart.

“I learned to ollie on a piece of plywood in my yard,” he recalled with a chuckle. “I know what it’s like to be a rural Vermont skateboarder.”

And being a rural Vermont skateboarder often means improvising when it comes to surfaces and props.

No skateboard park? You have to learn to make the most of flat, paved surfaces. Or, you take to pedestrian railings, steps, sidewalks and slopes in town, but risk a police warning.

Murphy still takes the occasional turn on a board, but now he’s thinking of the next generation – including his children, Ruby and Oscar, ages 10 and 9, respectively. They are following in their dad’s skate tracks, and Murphy would like a proper local place for them to practice.

He became involved in earnest in a Middlebury skatepark effort back in 2014. At the time he learned that a seasonal, makeshift skatepark had once existed in the Memorial Sports Center. He believes some of the props from that park have ended up at Bristol’s successful skatepark. Hoping to make a permanent Middlebury skatepark a reality, Murphy earlier this year joined forces with fellow resident Kimberly Breckenridge.

Thus was born the Middlebury Skatepark Coalition, which drew 56 people to an organizational meeting at the Ilsley Library on April 29. Attendees shared their vision for a local skatepark and how it might get off the ground.

Right now, skateboarders must either travel to established parks in Bristol, Vergennes or Burlington, or they can take advantage of a program offered by the Middlebury Parks & Recreation Department. That program – 90% enrolled – offers a series of weekly skateboarding clinics on the tennis courts at Harold Curtis Park in East Middlebury. A Manchester, Vt., Company trucks in halfpipes, ramps and other props – as well as an instructor – for the duration of each session. The cost is $ 40 per session.

PERMANENT SKATEPARK

Those offerings are nice, but dedicated skateboarders are hoping for a more permanent solution.

“One of the beauties of skateboarding is that when there’s a place to skateboard, it’s essentially free,” Murphy said. “We’d like to see a safe space designed for this purpose.”

Middlebury resident Carolyn Gillis started skateboarding during the 1980s with her little Vision skateboard. Like Murphy, she passed her passion for the sport down to her sons, Liam, 7, and Aidan, 15.

Aidan has been skateboarding since he was 3. Now he spends many hours each week honing his skills at area skateparks where he tricks-out with like-minded teens. Gillis actively supports her sons’ love of the sport, ferrying them to parks as far away as West Lebanon, NH

But it’s not an ideal situation.

“It’s hard for parents to have to commute anytime their kids want to go skateboarding,” Gillis said. “It’s a solid two-hour (drive-time) commitment anytime we go to the Waterfront Skatepark in Burlington.”

Her son Aiden said the absence of a local facility is forcing skateboarders to roam for their riding thrills.

“Skateboarders (in Middlebury) generally look for empty parking lots or ride down the street – which can be unsafe with traffic,” he said.

Aiden isn’t partial to other sports, so he’s pretty solid with a small core of skateboard enthusiasts at Middlebury Union High School. Sometimes they meet up at the parks in Vergennes and Bristol, but that’s becoming tougher. He said those facilities have fallen into some disrepair.

“The ramps are so broken down and old that it becomes unsafe to use them because pieces of metal are sticking out and that will catch one of your wheels while you’re rolling,” Aiden said.

He hopes Middlebury can come up with a solution.

“I think (a skatepark) would get a lot of use, not only by the people in the surrounding towns, but also by newcomers to the sport,” he said. “It’s very easy to fall in love with the sport if you have a place to practice.”

His mom said skateboarding has been one of the few activities where Gillis’s two sons – with an eight-year age difference between them – can spend quality time together practicing a mutually adored sport. That kindred spirit permeates the skateboarding community, according to Gillis.

“Over the years, one thing I’ve noticed consistently is the older skaters look out for the younger skaters; if a kid falls, they check on them, ”she said. “If a kid does a great trick, they can check on them. There’s a sweet and tender community, and I think that’s amazing. ”

Skateboarding has other benefits, too.

“Skateparks are great because they give kids the opportunity to master something – which is important for kids’ self-esteem,” Gillis said. “It’s exercise, you’re out in the fresh air, it’s social.”

A clinical social worker by trade, Gillis hopes to help the Middlebury skatepark effort by being a project facilitator.

SIZE AND COST

Skatepark advocates know they’ve got a pretty steep hill to climb, but they’re willing to tackle it.

Murphy last Friday presented fellow coalition members with some preliminary numbers of what a skatepark might cost and how many people might use it. He told the group, among other things, that the recommended industry standard is 10,000 square feet of skatepark space for 25,000 residents.

Middlebury’s current population is 9,152 (including Middlebury College students). The combined population of the seven Addison Central School District towns is 15,618, which would translate into a skatepark need of 6,247 square feet.

Murphy cited examples of other Vermont communities that have installed skateparks. Among them are: Burlington (population 44,743, skatepark is 21,200 square feet), Manchester (population 4,484 – 6,000 square feet with a planned second phase that will bring it up to 20,000 square feet), and Bethel (population 1,942 – 4,000 square feet) .

Using a national statistic that 2.07% of Americans practice the sport, Murphy estimated that Middlebury has 189 casual skateboarders and 73 “core” practitioners. Extrapolating further, he believes there are a combined 323 casual skaters and 125 core skaters in the ACSD.

To widen its appeal, organizers said the new park would also be open to scooters, BMX and wheelchair motocross riders; roller skaters and in-line skaters; and Parkour and fitness enthusiasts.

Ideally, Middlebury’s skatepark should be in a central, visible location that is shovel-ready, according to Murphy. It should also be close to parking, restrooms and drinking water.

The price per square foot for a stake park is currently $ 50- $ 70, Murphy said. The concrete surface is a major contributor to the overall price, but Murphy added parks can be as inexpensive at $ 25 per square foot.

That means a 6,000-square-foot park could cost $ 150,000 to $ 420,000.

With that kind of pricing, coalition members know they’ll have to do a lot of grant writing and fundraising. Murphy said it would be extremely important that Middlebury secure a Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC) grant, which he said could cover a huge chunk of the final price tag. He noted the town of Ludlow recently landed a $ 190,500 VOREC grant to help finance its Dorsey Park Skatepark.

“Many communities recognize the value (of a skatepark),” Murphy said.

Middlebury Parks and Recreation Superintendent Dustin Hunt pledged his support to help move a skatepark project forward.

“The Parks and Recreation Department is excited to collaborate with the group to help bring a skate park to our community and the group will receive full support from our department in any way we can,” Hunt wrote in an April 28 email to the coalition. “The biggest hurdle right now is ‘where,’ and we look forward to working with the group to come up with creative ideas that will help carry this plan forward.”

Murphy hopes the coalition can deliver on its vision,

“I want to provide something for the community and for my kids that meant so much to me growing up,” he said.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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