BERLIN – The Berlin Police Department has added its support to efforts to bring a skatepark to the town.
In response to skateboarding concerns brought up at this week’s town council meeting, Police Chief Arnold Downing said local kids needed a safe place to skateboard. He said they were going to continue to skate where they shouldn’t until they had a designated space.
“The police department has the first $1,000,” he said. “We’ll go ahead and ask the businesses downtown to go ahead and help support any program that will go ahead and bring forth safe activity for our children. We support little league, youth football. We support all those. We can do the exact same thing with the skateboard situation.”
Councilman Jack Orris brought up the issue Monday, pointing out that he’d had calls from some citizens regarding the increase in skateboarding in town.
“I know it’s a tough situation, the parents are at a loss, kids just want to have fun and be kids and it’s no secret we’ve been talking about a skateboard park for years, but ultimately safety is our number one responsibility,” he said.
Downing agreed that there had been an influx in complaints regarding skateboarding but that because of the pandemic, children had more idle time to skateboard and didn’t have a place in town they could do it. Downing said to deter skateboarding where it wasn’t allowed, his officers sometimes confiscated skateboards. When kids and their parents come to the department to retrieve the skateboards, they’re advised of the law.
“I think every one of the young people understand the law for sure now, but they still have the question of ‘what can we do and where can we do it,’” Downing said. “And we’ve made the commitment, we’ve said we’re willing to go ahead and put up funds if they want to use Heron Park or any other designated place that someone starts a program.”
He added that the town could pursue grants to create a skate park.
“Hopefully we can keep that as a discussion topic and not shut that part down, because again we have a lot of kids that are going to be out there, they’re going to be skateboarding on Atlantic Hotel property, off of the tables downtown and those things if we don’t go ahead and provide them with access to a safe place to be,” he said.
Mayor Zack Tyndall suggested the town reach out to the group that once offered pop-up skateboarding events at Heron Park. He added that metrics associated with events like those could help the town if it did seek funding for a skateboarding facility.
When Councilman Jay Knerr asked about the cost of a skate park, Downing said the town had reached out to neighboring municipalities for information in the past.
“My big thing is don’t let the numbers scare you,” he said. “All kids need is a trash can and a ball and they can have fun. Understand that concept. If they have the place to do it, and they have the support system, they can get a lot of things done.”
Councilmember Shaneka Nichols praised Downing’s department for its support of the cause. Councilman Troy Purnell said Heron Park would be the best place for skateboarding.
“I know there’s a whole lot of underground local momentum that really wants to see something happen,” he said. “I’m certainly fully supportive, have been since day one.”
Purnell added that a skate park could be built incrementally.
“Yeah it’s going to take some money and we’re going to have to determine a space for it but I think it’s definitely necessary,” he said. “There’s more young kids in town than I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Resident Tony Weeg, one of the members of the public listening in to Monday’s meeting via Facebook livestream, was thrilled to hear interest from Downing and elected officials regarding a skatepark. He’s spent months talking about the prospect.
“That was huge,” he said. “It’s really cool to have support.”
Weeg, who ran for council last year, created the We Love Berlin page on Facebook during his campaign. Though he was not elected, he’s kept the page — which has more than 1,100 followers — active as a place for residents to share news and ideas. It was there he shared plans for the We Love Berlin nonprofit he’s in the process of creating. He’s just waiting on the paperwork to be finalized so he can begin collecting donations — many of which have already been promised — to go toward a skatepark. Weeg has also talked to the mayor and several council members about the effort. He said all it would take to get started was a designated space and insurance.
“From there we can work on building it incrementally,” he said.
He’s hopeful the nonprofit will make the fundraising process easier and will provide a means to help with future recreation projects in town.
“I took the wave of support I had from the election and kept it rolling with the Facebook group,” he said.
Another project he has envisioned for the town is the installation of outdoor ping pong tables at John Howard Burbage Park, the space in front of the town’s power plant.
“People don’t even know it exists as a park,” Weeg said.
He says he’d love to see a space that’s not used now become something vibrant.
“It forces people to get out and do something different,” he said.