OCEAN CITY – A petition has surfaced online to keep Ocean City’s landmark skate park open during its normal operating hours rather than reduce hours and shut it down during two winter months.
The petition, called Stop the Planned Ocean Bowl Skate Park Closure can be found on Change.org, and as of Thursday morning had received 374 signatures of support.
The proposal to reduce the skate park’s hours of operation as well as institute a two-month closure originated from the Recreation and Parks Department when it was asked to cut operating costs for the upcoming fiscal year. The recommendation was made to the Recreation and Parks Commission, which was then passed on to the full Mayor and City Council.
The council voted to have the skate park operate Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend during its normal hours, which is seven days a week during daylight. The changes proposed are beginning the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend it would continue to be open on weekends, holidays and all Worcester County school days off only. The skate park will be shut down during the months of January and February completely.
“This cannot be allowed to happen especially just for the sake of saving a few bucks,” creator Mike Durkin stated in his online petition. “The Ocean Bowl is a very important part of the lives of many locals here and this town as a whole. It means a lot to us, especially the skateboarders who spend almost as much time there as they do at home or in school, even more in some cases. Skateboarding in a secure environment also keeps children off the street and out of trouble. In addition, the Ocean Bowl Skate Park is a core piece of this town’s history and it would not be right to limit …”
Durkin, 17, attends Worcester Preparatory School. He has lived in Ocean City his entire life and has been skateboarding for over four years.
“I spend almost all my time at the skate park. I go every day after school when the weather permits and as long as I don’t have too much schoolwork. I wouldn’t know what to do without it,” he said. “On the days when we can’t skate, my friends and I honestly have trouble coming up with things to do … the only things available in town are mini golf and movie theaters. It really doesn’t leave much for kids to do in the winter.”
Durkin acknowledged if the skate park is closed, skateboarders are left with street skating, which is frowned upon by authorities.
“Although it’s legal to skate from point A to point B, you still can’t skate anything in front of a business or homes without the workers or those who live there kicking you out and rightfully so,” he said. “Even if you are on public property, there’s still noise complaints to deal with, which undoubtedly come if your wheels so much as leave the ground. Point being, skating as transportation being legal is far from a substitution for the skate park.”
Durkin has become concerned for other local kids who may find themselves looking for other ways to keep themselves occupied other than spending time at the skate park.
“I’m worried they’re going to get into drugs or just develop poor habits like sitting inside to play video games all day,” he said. “Some of these kids are really talented skateboarders, to the point where I could see some of them being professionals in the future. I don’t want to see them lose their ability to push their skating and see how talented they can really be. I’m going to college this fall, so the biggest reason for me to make the petition, is for all the people who are still here that would be lost without the Ocean Bowl.”
Durkin has set a goal to push the town to find cost saving measures elsewhere besides cutting the skate park. He pointed out the skate park closure saves $20,000
“If Ocean City wants to keep up with its claim that they are a ‘family town’, then they need to start thinking a little more about the families who live here and not just keep things running when they have the most tourists coming in,” Durkin said.
Durkin stressed the importance in the public’s voice being heard over the matter in upcoming budget hearings, beginning on Monday, May 6, at 6 p.m.
During an update on the budget this week, the Mayor and City Council began discussing the concerns that have been raised over the hours at the skate park being limited and the planned two-month closure.
“I think it has been misrepresented that the skate park is going to be shut down,” Councilman Joe Mitrecic said reviewing the proposed changes. “We are talking about the skate park being closed probably somewhere along the lines of 16 hours a week that it would have been open, so any misrepresentation of what is being done is irresponsible.”
Councilman Brent Ashley responded 16 hours a week and two months in the off-season is a lot of time for kids to be getting in trouble elsewhere.
“You have kids being occupied, they are not sitting at home on their computer playing games, they are out doing physical activities and you want to take hours away from them,” he said. “I think if anything we should be adding hours to it.”
Council President Lloyd Martin, whose son is an avid skateboarder, pointed out the Boardwalk is available for skaters while the park is closed.
“I am not saying some of them don’t like to go to the skate park but they are doing more street skating now,” he said.
Mayor Rick Meehan recognized the skate park hours were recommended though the council’s own direction for departments to propose savings where possible.
“There are adjustments to be made, but I think we need to take another look at this to make sure what we are doing is responsible, provides the activity but at the same time makes the skate park viable,” the mayor said. “It is a business within a business, and we want to make sure it remains strong and part of that might be reducing hours while we add something at the other end.”
City Manager David Recor concluded the city will be responsive to the concerns raised by the public over the skate park hours being reduced and closed and alternatives will be taken into consideration.