By Nicole Shue
Friends of Fulton Parks and a group of volunteers from the community are moving forward with plans to establish a skate park at Van Buren Park.
A few dozen skaters, BMX bikers, scooter riders and supporters of the idea gathered earlier this month at Van Buren Park to get signatures on a petition for the project. While Friends of Fulton Parks has approval from the city to move forward at the Van Buren site, a petition that shows strong community and grassroots support for the project is needed to obtain funding.
Kelley Weaver of FOFP has volunteered to do the grant writing for the skate park. Several of these grants exist specifically for the creation of skate parks in low-income areas and are designed to enrich the lives of young people.
“Friends of Fulton Parks is involved in this (project) because our mission is to improve opportunities for recreational activities in the parks. Hundreds of members of the community have expressed their support for a skate park, and we have partnered with them primarily in the grant-writing process,” said Weaver.
Van Buren Park is located on North Sixth and Van Buren streets. The skate park would be built in the parking lot behind the tennis courts, which is currently vacant. Coordinators say the spot is nice because it’s tucked away from neighbors, the street and motorists.
Joe Arnold has dreamed of having a concrete skate park in Fulton for years. Arnold, a graduate of G. Ray Bodley High School, now works at the Fulton Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) with children. He sees the park as a recreational opportunity for children and teens. Arnold and his friends currently have to drive to Hannibal or Oswego to access skate parks.
“A skate park in Fulton would allow people to ride their boards in a safe place, without fear of getting into trouble by the police for skating in parking lots,” said Arnold. “Young people in this city need something to do. We’re not using the swing sets and slides.”
Ed Scrimale, a junior at GRB, is a student-athlete who plays basketball and football. In the summer months, he and his friends enjoy skating and biking as a hobby. Scrimale said that while he’s never been arrested for skateboarding, he is often targeted as “suspicious.” According to Scrimale, he has been stopped and given warnings by local police for skating in the street.
Scrimale said police recently told him that his riding was disrupting the flow of traffic. Without a designated skate park, Scrimale and others have few options other than to skate on the road. Van Buren Park is up the road from Scrimale’s home. He hopes the skate park will be built so that he can meet other kids who share his interest and skate in a place free from traffic.
“Skateboarding shouldn’t be a crime, I don’t want to have a record (for our choice of transportation),” he said.
Unlike Scrimale, GRB senior Ryan Harrington doesn’t play a team sport. Harrington enjoys skating because a team isn’t relying on him to score a goal or bring home a championship title. Skating with his peers who are stronger skaters has helped him get better and has built his self-esteem, he said.
“In skating I feel like I’m a part of a little community,” Harrington said. “We just want to get active and be outside — not punished for doing what we love.”
Dan Merlino, a 2012 GRB graduate, said that, as a sport without coaches, skateboarders learn tricks by either watching videos or interacting with other skaters. He grew up idolizing skaters Ryan Williams and Chris Hart.
Bill Dix, of the GRB class of 2015, agreed that skaters encourage one another. He said skating has taught him responsibility and respect.
“What we ride is what we own,” said Dix.
The development of a skate park has met some resistance, particularly on the Friends of Fulton Parks Facebook page. Some people have argued that other Fulton parks should get improvements and updating before another park is built.
Others, like Joe Arnold’s mother, Roxanne, say that a skate park in Fulton is exactly what the city needs.
“These kids work hard at this,” said Roxanne Arnold. “These young people are our future; it’s a sport just like anything else.”
Weaver said FOFP has had a very positive experience working with the skaters.
“Our experience in working with these young people is all positive; they have shown courtesy, respect, honesty, and tolerance. They deserve the same from all of us,” said Weaver.
FOFP is looking into the idea of renting equipment for the park. After petitions are signed, an official funding website will be set up. Matching funds are needed for the skate park grants to prove that the idea is both viable and sustainable. The organization is accepting all ideas for possible fundraisers.