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Berlin, nonprofit talk skate park

By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer

Skating enthusiasts, concerned residents and We Heart Berlin members attended the Sept. 6 meeting of the Belrin Parks Commission under the pavilion at Dr. William Henry Park on Sept. 6 to discuss the feasibility and location of a skate park in the town.

(Sept. 15, 2022) With some 30 people in attendance and plenty of lively discussion about a possible skate park in Berlin, the town’s Parks Commission meeting at Dr. William Edward Henry Park on Sept. 6 felt more like a Town Council meeting than a typical bureaucratic roundtable.

During the meeting, members from the non-profit We Heart Berlin and local skaters laid down their case for a skate park and discussed possible locations, among them a parcel of land next to Henry Park.

The meeting was attended by councilmembers Shaneka Nichols, Jack Orris and Jay Knerr.

The nonprofit is currently talking to design firms, and founder Tony Weeg said at the meeting that it will review multiple locations with whichever it selects.

“We spoke with a skate park designer and (we spoke with another on Sept. 7),” Weeg said. “Part of these guys’ initial engagement will be coming to help us take survey of our land, look at the best place for the people, the cost of design, for the cost of stormwater management, to weigh all those things out — things that none of us in this room can do today like those guys.”

The first firm, Pillar Design Studios, designed Salisbury’s skate park, which Weeg described as similar to what they envision in Berlin.

“Part of what that (firm’s) engagement does with that design phase (is) survey to see what the town wants,” he said.

Henry Park itself is near the top of the list of desirable sites and if We Heart Berlin tapped it for the location, Weeg pointed out that it wouldn’t come close to taking up the whole parcel adjacent to Route 113. He added that, as far as noise is concerned, it wouldn’t be nearly as loud as that highway.

Further, the nonprofit is not seeking “a single dime” from the town, Weeg said.

But other spaces will be considered, among them Heron Park and the town-owned vacant lot on Flower Street. The nonprofit is not excluding any potential site at this stage, Weeg said.

A constant point brought up was stormwater management — a logical concern for a large, non-porous installation in a town that already experiences significant flooding issues.

“Wherever this is going to end up, stormwater has to take priority along with what Councilmember Nichols said about reaching out to neighbors it will directly affect,” Orris said.

Orris said he listened in as a guest on the phone call between We Heart Berlin and Pillar and brought up some of the ideas he heard.

“Stormwater accents like rain guards and things like that,” he suggested. “If there’s an area, according to this designer, that was too low and we’re able to build something up and move it and then there’s this pump there that kept the water and released it steadily — all cool ideas. But I want to reiterate the importance of the stormwater and neighbors.”

Nichols stressed the importance of talking to skate park neighbors and considering their positions multiple times during the meeting.

“My concern is the neighbors,” she said. “Irregardless of the community you choose to put it in, the property you put it in — I’ll use Henry Park as an example. This spot that you’re considering … these green spaces back up to people’s yards. I think that that’s a huge question and concern, so you need to — please, I’m asking you to do your due diligence — talk to the people who live in these houses … before making a true decision.”

Weeg addressed Nichols’s concern and said neighbors will certainly be a part of the discussion.

James Parrigin, a Salisbury resident who helped with the skate park there, said he was happy to hear the town engaging in these conversations and added that flexibility on location is vital.

“The place where you saw the Salisbury skate park, that was the second pick,” he said. “The first pick was in South Park originally — huge, a little over an acre. It would have facilitated a way better parking situation … We had to backpedal and do away with that idea. It would have been the perfect spot but we had to do away with it because of butterfly conservation. We just took it on the chin and found a different spot.”

Breaking down the phases of the Salisbury skate park project, he said they began with “just a long strip along the woods there.” The second phase, which they’re currently in, filled in a middle area. The final phase, he said, will fill in some grass areas, which will add to the concrete surface area.

“It’s kind of daunting when you think about total cost,” he said. “But it didn’t all happen at once. Salisbury had never had a skate park before so that makes you automatically eligible for a Tony Hawk grant — the fact is, free money.”

With regard to neighbors, Parrigin related an anecdote about a gentleman who steadfastly opposed the skate park, but a year after it opened, “he was out there with his grandkids, giving out popsicles on a hot day. Suddenly, he was all about it.”

We Heart Berlin member Tom Simon said they’re envisioning a pump track — a circuit of hilly, concrete terrain with banked hills that skaters and bikers alike can use — for the park. He pointed out that the term “skate park” is somewhat of a misnomer.

“It’s a wheeled-toy park, is what it really is,” Weeg chipped in.

“It’s like an action park,” Simon agreed, adding that stormwater management would also be ideal for the first phase.

Weeg said that they will rely heavily on community input, though, and that a pump track could easily be scrapped if the input suggests it wouldn’t be welcome.