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You don't have to go to Northville, but you can't skate here
November 17, 2008 - Bill Ackerbauer
Why isn't there a place in Gloversville or Johnstown where young people can skate safely and without being chased away by the police?
Even in November, you can't drive through Johnstown between 3 and 5 p.m. without seeing rolling packs of kids on skateboards. They congregate at Sir William Johnson Park on West Main Street. I understand the Knox Junior High School grounds are a popular site as well, and I've seen kids skating outside the Johnstown Area Community Center at Prindle Court.
One afternoon in September, I was walking through the downtown park with my kids (who are too small to skate, but it won't be long, I fear), and we stopped to watch some teenagers defy gravity and the fundamental principle of human mortality as they ground up the concrete on and around the band shell. A police officer approached the kids and told them to cease and desist.
The cop and the kids were equally diplomatic -- perhaps they'd had this conversation before -- and it occurred to me the skaters don't have anywhere else nearby to go. The only successful skate park in Fulton County is the one operated by the Baptist Church of Northville's youth ministry. If a rural church can come up with the funds to start and maintain a skate park, why can't our largest municipalities? The struggling Gloversville Recreation Commission looked into some skate park options recently, but that effort seems to have fizzled.
Perhaps the two cities, the two school districts and the town of Johnstown ought to put together a joint recreation committee to study the methods other communities have used to build skate parks. I don't know the particulars, but from stories we've run in the newspaper, I gather the installation cost would be in the tens of thousands of dollars, and the costs of insuring and staffing the facility would no doubt be significant as well. But I'm convinced there is enough interest among young people in the community that the cost obstacle can be overcome. If skaters channel their energies properly and get some solid advice from a handful of adults (parents and/or adult skaters), they can make this happen.
What would be the best location for a skate park? Some have looked to the YMCA, with its new facility out on Harrison Street, but the Y leadership doesn't seem interested. Perhaps creating a skate park that far away from the downtowns and residential neighborhoods would defeat the purpose anyway. We wouldn't want an increase in skateboard traffic on Harrison Street or Route 29, and what skater wants to get a lift in Mom's mini-van?
I can think of several promising places in Johnstown:
- The city-owned lot near the intersection of West Main and Cayadutta streets, which is now a drop-off location for leaves and brush. Perhaps there's enough unused space there for a skate park. It has the advantages of being halfway between downtown and Johnstown High School and immediately adjacent to the Rail Trail.
- Not far from there, also on the Rail Trail, are the Washington Street Park (which now has nothing to recommend it but a gazebo and a patch of grass) and the area across the creek that was until this spring a block of industrial buildings. Jerry Kuziw, the developer whose buildings were destroyed in the big April fire, might still have plans for the site, but who's to say he wouldn't be supportive of a skate park? Perhaps he could be talked into converting the former Johnstown YMCA into the restaurant/brewpub/distillery he had envisoned on West State Street.
- The city-owned area around the JACC on Prindle Court, near the Shirley J. Luck Senior Citizens Center, wouldn't be a bad choice either. It's already a hub of youth activity, it has a lot of flat, paved surface, and it's just off Main Street. Perhaps a new group of skateboarding enthusiasts will get together and take over the operation of the Haunted House fundraiser at the JACC; Ron Beck and the JHS International Club have said they're eager to pass the torch to some other group.
- The former site of the Karg Bros. tannery and the Briggs Street athletic fields also are possibilities.
A skate park is the kind of quality-of-life project that isn't cheap but pays dividends over time.
The glass-is-half-empty sort of people will point to the dreary state of the economy and say the time isn't right for our community to undertake a costly effort to build something so frivolous.
The glass-is-not-only-empty-but-breakable folks will say the last thing we need is a new set of concrete ramps and quarter-pipes for young people to hurl themselves off of at breakneck speed.
But it seems to me there's no time like the present: I've seen more local kids skating this year than ever before. Skating is a positive social and physical ativity that gets kids out of the house and away from the Playstation. Those youngsters who get involved in a communitywide effort to gather support and funding for a skate park may learn from the experience. If they are successful, they will have something to pass on to younger generations of shredders more useful than advice on how to avoid the cops.
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