Group gathering for the new skatepark in Middlebury

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MIDDLEBURY – The town of Middlebury is rich in places to entertain, exercise and relax. There is the Municipal Recreation Facility on Creek Road, the Memorial Sports Center, several school gymnasiums, several playgrounds and playgrounds, and a rich array of entertainment on the Middlebury College campus, some of which is laid out available to the general public.

But something is still missing, according to a growing segment of Middlebury’s population:

A skatepark.

You know, a concrete surface filled with half-pipes, rails, ramps and other paraphernalia where you can get some air under your skateboard to perform a gnarly frontside 720, aerial walk, alley- oop, an ollie or even a “darkslide,” for the more advanced.

“We want to make it very clear that there is a demand (for a local skateboard),” said Ethan Murphy, co-leader of the Middlebury Skatepark Coalition.

The group, which currently has over 50 members, is working to secure a skatepark in Middlebury.

Murphy grew up in South Royalton, where he enthusiastically took up skateboarding – once a diversion enjoyed mainly on the West Coast, and now a bona fide sporting and Olympic event.

Most skateboarders are passionate about the sport, finding it more appealing than the more conventional school offerings of football, baseball, basketball, soccer, field hockey, and softball.

Murphy, as a young boy, enjoyed most sports, but skateboarding had – and still has – a special place in his heart.

“I learned to ollie on a piece of plywood in my yard,” he recalls with a laugh. “I know what it’s like to be a rural Vermont skateboarder.”

And being a rural Vermont skater often means improvising when it comes to surfaces and accessories.

No skateboard park? You need to learn how to make the most of flat, paved surfaces. Or, you go down pedestrian guardrails, steps, sidewalks and inclines in town, but risk a warning from the police.

Murphy still occasionally plays on a board, but he’s now thinking about the next generation, including his children, Ruby and Oscar, ages 10 and 9, respectively. They follow their father’s skate trails, and Murphy would like a suitable local place for them to train.

He got seriously involved with a Middlebury skatepark in 2014. At the time, he learned that a seasonal makeshift skatepark had once existed at the Memorial Sports Center. He thinks some of the props from that park ended up in the successful Bristol skate park. Hoping to make a permanent skatepark in Middlebury a reality, Murphy teamed up earlier this year with fellow resident Kimberly Breckenridge.

Thus was born the Middlebury Skatepark Coalition, which drew 56 people to an organizing meeting at Ilsley Library on April 29. Participants shared their vision for a local skatepark and how it could get started.

Currently, snowboarders either have to go to established parks in Bristol, Vergennes or Burlington, or take advantage of a program offered by the Middlebury Parks & Recreation Department. This program – 90% of enrollees – offers a series of weekly skateboard clinics on the tennis courts at Harold Curtis Park in East Middlebury. A company in Manchester, Vermont, installs half-pipe trucks, ramps and other accessories – as well as an instructor – for the duration of each session. The cost is $40 per session.

PERMANENT SKATEPARK

These deals are great, but dedicated skaters are hoping for a more permanent solution.

“One of the beauties of skateboarding is that when there’s a place to skateboard, it’s basically free,” Murphy said. “We would like to see a safe space designed for this purpose.”

Middlebury resident Carolyn Gillis started skateboarding in the 1980s with her little Vision skateboard. Like Murphy, she passed on her passion for the sport to her sons, Liam, 7, and Aidan, 15.

Aidan has been skateboarding since he was 3 years old. Now he spends many hours each week honing his skills at area skateparks where he plays with like-minded teenagers. Gillis actively supports his sons’ love of sports, taking them to parks as far away as West Lebanon, NH

But this is not an ideal situation.

“It’s hard for parents to have to commute every time their kids want to skateboard,” Gillis said. “That’s a solid two hour commitment (ride time) every time we go to the Waterfront Skatepark in Burlington.”

His son Aiden said the lack of a local facility forces skateboarders to travel for their thrills.

“Skateboarders (in Middlebury) usually look for empty car parks or ride on the street – which can be dangerous with traffic,” he said.

Aiden doesn’t like other sports, so he’s pretty solid with a small core of skateboarding enthusiasts at Middlebury Union High School. Sometimes they end up in the parks of Vergennes and Bristol, but it becomes more and more difficult. He said these facilities had fallen into disrepair.

“The ramps are so run down and old that it becomes dangerous to use them because pieces of metal are sticking out and it will catch one of your wheels as you ride,” Aiden said.

He hopes Middlebury can find a solution.

“I think (a skatepark) would be used a lot, not only by people from surrounding towns but also by newcomers to the sport,” he said. “It’s very easy to fall in love with sports if you have a place to practice.”

His mother said skateboarding was one of the few activities where Gillis’ two sons – with an eight-year age difference between them – could spend quality time together playing a mutually adored sport. That kindred spirit pervades the skateboarding community, according to Gillis.

“Over the years, one thing I’ve noticed consistently is that older skaters pay attention to younger skaters. if a child falls, they watch it,” she said. “If a child does a great trick, he can watch it. There’s a sweet, loving community, and I think that’s amazing.

Skateboarding has other benefits as well.

“Skateparks are great because they give kids the opportunity to master something – which is important for kids’ self-esteem,” Gillis said. “It’s exercise, you’re in the fresh air, it’s social.”

A clinical social worker by trade, Gillis hopes to help Middlebury’s skatepark efforts by being a project facilitator.

SIZE AND COST

Skatepark fans know they have quite a steep hill to climb, but they’re ready to tackle it.

Last Friday, Murphy presented the other members of the coalition with preliminary figures on what a skatepark could cost and how many people could use it. He told the group, among other things, that the recommended industry standard is 10,000 square feet of skatepark space per 25,000 residents.

Middlebury’s current population is 9,152 (including Middlebury College students). The combined population of the seven towns in the Addison Central School District is 15,618, which would translate to a skatepark requirement of 6,247 square feet.

Murphy cited examples of other Vermont communities that have installed skate parks. Among them are: Burlington (population 44,743, skatepark is 21,200 square feet), Manchester (population 4,484 – 6,000 square feet with a planned second phase that will take it to 20,000 square feet) and Bethel (population 1 942 – 4,000 square feet).

Using a national stat that 2.07% of Americans play the sport, Murphy estimated that Middlebury has 189 casual skaters and 73 “core” skaters. Extrapolating further, he believes there is a combined total of 323 casual skaters and 125 core skaters in the ACSD.

To broaden its appeal, organizers said the new park would also be open to scooter, BMX and wheelchair motocross riders; roller skates and inline skates; and Parkour and fitness enthusiasts.

Ideally, the Middlebury skatepark should be centrally located, visible and ready for use, according to Murphy. It must also be close to parking, toilets and drinking water.

The price per square foot for a stake park is currently $50 to $70, Murphy said. The concrete surface is a major contributor to the overall price, but Murphy’s added playpens can be just as cheap at $25 per square foot.

That means a 6,000 square foot park could cost between $150,000 and $420,000.

With this kind of award, coalition members know they will have to do a lot of grant applications and fundraising. Murphy said it would be extremely important for Middlebury to secure a grant from the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC), which he said could cover a large portion of the final price. He noted that the town of Ludlow recently landed a $190,500 VOREC grant to help fund its Dorsey Park Skatepark.

“Many communities recognize the value (of a skatepark),” Murphy said.

Middlebury Parks and Recreation Superintendent Dustin Hunt has pledged his support to help move a skatepark project forward.

“The Department of Parks and Recreation is thrilled to be working with the band to help bring a skate park to our community and the band will receive the full support of our department in every way possible,” Hunt wrote in an email. April 28 to the coalition. “The biggest hurdle right now is ‘where’ and we look forward to working with the band to come up with creative ideas that will help move that plan forward.”

Murphy hopes the coalition can realize his vision,

“I want to give something to the community and to my kids that meant so much to me growing up,” he said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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