New Paltz teens want a skate park

The New Paltz Skate Park Initiative hopes to raise funds for a place where these young people can skate. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Do you wish that teenagers would spend less time staring at their electronic devices and more time outdoors, getting exercise, socializing face-to-face? Does it trouble you that bullying, social ostracism, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm and even suicide are so prevalent among our youth? For many high schoolers, the healthy alternative activity of choice is skateboarding. The only trouble is, in New Paltz, kids who skateboard don’t really have anyplace safe to practice their sport. And a group of them are now raising money and awareness to remedy that lack.

“Our hope is to get a skate park built somewhere in New Paltz — preferably Hasbrouck Park or somewhere central,” says Allie Carney, 15. “We all go to New Paltz High School. A lot of us are freshmen. None of us drive, and we skate every day.”

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That means that existing skate parks, such as the one in Majestic Park in Gardiner, simply aren’t a realistic alternative for these youth. Nor would the Field of Dreams Park on Libertyville Road be a site for a future skate park that would be likely to see regular use. There’s a cluster of skateboard ramps set up behind the New Paltz Youth Center, but it’s tiny and only useful for practicing jumps. The skaters need a place big enough and safe enough for even beginners to get the hang of the sport.

There are large enough paved areas at the New Paltz Middle School and at SUNY New Paltz, but the group of kids who are organizing maintain that they are typically turned away when they try to use those sites. “Every time we go skating and we go to the college or the Middle School, we get told not to skate here,” says Roy Wilms, 14. “We want a safe place that everyone can go to skate. I know some young kids who want to learn. We skate where we’re allowed.”

For now, that’s primarily the basketball court at Hasbrouck Park. Dozens of high schoolers gather there after school whenever weather permits and it isn’t already being used for other purposes. “During the day, there are usually people playing basketball here. It’s jam-packed on a nice day,” says Carney.

But it’s better than the wild and wooly alternative. “Street-skating is pretty dangerous. Cars come out of nowhere. A skateboard isn’t like a car; we don’t have brakes,” Carney notes. “Skateboarders can hit pedestrians, too,” adds Julian Kelly, 15. “The thing about skateboarding is, you fall a lot and your board goes everywhere. You don’t want to hit anybody.” While skaters are sometimes seen flying down Main Street, it’s generally acknowledged by these youth to be the riskiest place to practice. “It’s all downhill, lots of cars, lots of traffic,” Kelly says. “If you’re trying to do a trick and you mess up on top of Main Street, your board goes all the way down to the bottom, or it gets run over.” Young heads nod in sober recognition; having to replace one’s crushed skateboard is a frequent hazard for those who practice the sport.

And practice is what it’s all about. “Skateboarding is just ‘fail and retry.’ Nobody judges you,” says Wilms. “It gives us a hardworking trait.” “Practice makes perfect. You have to fall over and over again and pick yourself up over and over again,” Carney agrees. She emphasizes the character-building aspect of the sport, which she credits with helping her get through some tough personal times. “Skaters have a bad rap. There’s stereotyping that we’re hooligans and bad kids. But the friends I’ve made through skating are the most genuine, passionate people. It takes time, it takes effort, it takes discipline. So many kids are suffering from depression and anxiety. There are days when you don’t want to get out of bed. Skating gives you a reason to get up, go out and do things. You see progress. It’s really inspiring.”

“It’s good for the new generation growing up with a lot of technology. It gets them some good exercise,” adds Ryan Hyland, 14. “Adults are always telling kids to get off their phones and go outside,” Carney agrees. “When you’re skating, hours go by when you don’t even think about it.”

According to Carney, it was a fellow freshman, Cole Cuppet, who came up with the idea to take action to urge the Village or Town of New Paltz to provide a safe place for skateboarding. “He kickstarted the whole thing,” she says. A group of students reached out to municipal officials asking for support for the initiative. “The Town wants us to propose several different locations. Moriello Park could also work, but Hasbrouck Park is ideal because it’s so central,” Carney continues. “The mayor said, ‘Figure out how much money it would cost so we can match it.’” So she set up a GoFundMe account online. “Within the first 12 hours we had raised a thousand dollars!”

As of presstime, more than $3,500 had already been pledged. Several local businesses that serve the skateboarding crowd, including Likwid and Mixture, have also expressed enthusiasm for the project, as have the Maya Gold Foundation and the high school’s Awareness peer-to-peer substance abuse education program. “They’re really on board with it as a ‘sober activity,’” Carney notes.

The group of young organizers is now brainstorming additional fundraising events, such as a bake sale. “We have an idea to build five skate decks, have local artists paint them and then sell them or auction them,” says Carney. Creating their own decks, ramps and obstacle courses by repurposing whatever is handy is already second nature to these kids. They’re keen to pitch in and do much of the construction work on a skate park themselves, using whatever donated materials they can round up. And then they’ll be ready to pass on their skills to others who want to learn skateboarding – not only younger children, but even interested adults, Carney says.

The group’s next step is to do a presentation on their proposal before the Town and Village Boards at their joint meeting at the courthouse this Thursday, February 6 at 7 p.m. Residents are welcome to attend and show their support.

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