Back in early February of 2020, just before the onset of pandemic panic, we introduced readers to a cadre of local teen skateboarders who were tired of not having anyplace safe in town to practice their sport. In January, one of their members started a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of raising $10,000 toward the creation of a skatepark, preferably to be located in Hasbrouck Park.
Civic leaders, local businesses and community organizations serving youth quickly got on board the effort. By the end of February, the New Paltz Village Board had voted to adopt it as an official village project, enabling the donations raised to be transferred to a dedicated fund at the New Paltz Community Foundation when the GoFundMe campaign reached its expiration date. By the end of April, $6,686 had been raised from 107 donors, but the project had lost much of its public visibility, as skateboarders hunkered down indoors along with the rest of us.
Now, some nearby neighbors of Hasbrouck Park in New Paltz are worried that building a “skate garden” among the memorial trees that once surrounded the old playground will lead to noise, unruly behavior, higher taxes and more traffic into the park; others expect it will result in less driving, increased safety for teenagers, stronger family cohesion and a greater sense of community. Public comment was turned into more of an exchange of ideas, as Mayor Tim Rogers allowed for a conversation during a period which is usually just one-way feedback from residents to the elected officials.
Misha Harnick, who both spoke and submitted an email endorsed by more than a dozen others who live close to the park, sees the way this project is developing as a “unilateral decision” by trustees to construct a skating venue. Plans have been drawn up by an engineer, a step which neighbors are signaling perhaps should have been delayed until after some sort of a public meeting to weigh the merits of the idea.
There have been a number of planning sessions with volunteers, according to trustee Alex Wojcik, with more than 75 people actively working to realize a dream that’s been held by a segment of residents for decades. Wojcik’s understanding is that a good deal more people in the community support siting a skate garden on the patch of dirt only revealed when the old playground was dismantled a year ago, and not particularly used since.
It could be that the meetings Wojcik described were targeted to supporters who would be willing to organize the fundraising campaign that is believed necessary to build this venue, as Harnick and some other neighbors who spoke about the project didn’t recall seeing any notice about them. Most of those who weighed in asked questions about the ability to maintain this new facility in a park with pickleball courts that are in a state of disrepair, the impact this might have on tax rates as a result of increased insurance costs and quality-of-life concerns such as noise and “unruly behavior” centered on the skate garden.
While Harnick believes that riding a skateboard or other wheeled device over ramps is not in keeping with the “quiet events” typically held at the park, Rogers explained that noise studies indicated that skating isn’t any louder than other “park-like activities.” The mayor noted that the facility at Majestic Park, which has metal ramps, is indeed noisy, but that the concrete proposed for this project would create less noise against the wheels than asphalt.
Alternative locations were proposed, such as the Field of Dreams and near the community center, but there is a rationale for putting it at Hasbrouck. According to Rogers, having multiple forms of recreation in the same location allows more members of the same family to remain together while enjoying the facilities. Wojcik described a childhood experience of not being able to master skating skills because younger siblings were engaged in unrelated activities far from the available skate park. Rogers described a scene with a parent watching a young child by the playground, while one older sibling uses a skateboard and another reads under a tree.
Hasbrouck Park is also within walking distance, a point raised in a comment written by Hunter and Pippi Gutknecht, who noted that their mother — trustee Michele Zipp — “prefers not to drive.” Another site suggested, in front of the community center, is also not a far walk, but Wojcik does not see sending middle-schoolers walking or skating up North Chestnut Street to be nearly as safe an alternative. Liz Lee suggested putting something behind the youth center, which abuts the middle school property. There were a small number of skate ramps on that tiny property for some time, but being able to move those wooden ramps was necessary to accommodate different uses there. The proposal at Hasbrouck would not directly conflict with uses such as basketball, picnicking, or live music, although neighbors remain concerned that the presence of that activity could reduce the enjoyment of some others.
Deputy mayor KT Tobin sees increasing recreation options for teenagers as a way to directly confront forces that destroy young lives. Death by suicide or unintentional drug overdose is devastating, and there have been several such tragedies in recent years. Lee and Harnick both spoke about the dangers posed by skating, since the teens they have observed do not wear protective gear and thus risk broken bones and concussions.
This is a project that Rogers believes could take several years to realize, since as of now it’s to be funded with private donations. That should allow plenty of time to expand the community conversation in the way that neighbors have requested.