July 06, 2011

Skateboard Park plan deserves strong support

As published in The Erin Advocate

Dropping in to the Skate/BMX/Band Jam at Erin Centre 2000 on June 25, I was greeted by a wall of angry sound from a punk band on the arena floor. The people I met there, however, were anything but angry – everyone was having a great time.

Punk rock is not my cup of tea, but then neither is opera or jazz. I can appreciate the creative value in any style of music, as long I am not too close to the speakers. I have never been a skateboarder, but I can see that the primary factor is fun, and so I am glad to support construction of a Skate/BMX Park in Erin.

I remember how important a bike was for me as a kid, providing independence, risk and part of my identity. I am especially impressed with the vertical techniques that today's BMX riders have developed.

Skateboarding and BMX are not going away. Their popularity has fluctuated over the past 50 years, but with improvements to equipment and exposure in movies, interest has spread to many countries around the world. There is a need for a facility now, and there is every reason to believe that the interest will continue well into the future.

The Jam offered participants the chance to try out their techniques on portable ramps and rails in the arena. Andrea Rudyk, who helped organize the event, said about $1,200 was raised.

"It was a success, there were a lot of skaters and BMXers enjoying the park, which is what we were aiming for," she said. The bands performing were Agents of Id, Bread Fan, Frenemy, KIZ & LEGIN, Fade Chromatic, Nobel Savage, Rise of the Lion, No King for Countrymen and The Elwins.

Young people in Erin have shown that they are willing to raise money and work for their cause and have attracted support from donors such as developer Shane Baghai, Scotia Bank, Nestlé Waters and Erin Hydro.

It has been more than two years since resident Mark Middleton brought a petition with 335 signatures to Town Council, asking them to support a skate park, now expected to cost about $100,000. The Town has agreed to pay half the cost. A site on the west side of Centre 2000 has been chosen, and work could start this fall.

"I'm going to stick around – I don't give up easily," said Middleton, part of a committee of adults and youth working to raise $50,000. "Seeing the kids on the downtown streets got me going. They need a place to express themselves."

Skateboarders are not always welcome to hang out in some areas of the town. The new park will not completely solve this tension, but it will certainly help. Mutual respect is a sign of a strong community.

Previous attempts to get a park, with extensive efforts by both adults and youth, were not successful. Naturally, interests change as teens get older and they often move out of Erin, but as I saw at the recent fundraising event, many younger kids continue to take up the sport.

To support the campaign, or to get more information, go to www.erinskatepark.com, or their Facebook page. Donations can be made through the Town office, with income tax receipts available. There will be more fundraising at local events this year.

The park has the support of the Wellington County OPP. It will be covered by Town liability insurance, and by the Centre 2000 surveillance cameras. The site will have a flat concrete pad, with portable equipment attached to it. As in other sports, there is a risk of injury, but this can be controlled through common sense and good equipment. The plan is to incorporate a barrier to reduce the noise for nearby homes.

Skateboarding has had a traditional link with punk rock, which supports the sport's rebellious image. It does seem to attract those who do not like the strict rules and timetables of more organized sports, but there is no standard image. Like any culture, it covers a broad spectrum.

There is a natural overlap of interest with BMX bikes, since they use many of the same ramps and structures for their jumps. BMX (bicycle motocross) started out as an offshoot of motorized dirt bike racing.

There is a link too with surfing and snowboarding, which started out as rebel cultures. It is a natural evolution – when an activity has real value, it eventually earns acceptance, even in small town Ontario.