Skaters, community members look to rebuild skate park

By Ethan Andrews | Jun 17, 2017
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Eric Overlock Memorial Skate Park has been eyed for demolition or relocation several times over the past decade, but has held on through piecemeal repairs. Now, with significant redevelopment in the areas around it, supporters are hoping to rebuild the park as an amenity that could attract more than hardcore skaters.

Belfast — Almost a decade ago, the city hastily erected a chain-link fence around the skate park on Washington Street to keep out trouble-making non-skaters. Today, a group of skate park supporters is hatching a plan to keep the bad element out by inviting more of the good element in.

John Cronin, of the Overlock Park Committee that's behind the effort to revive the skate park, said the goal is to build a new park in cement and surround it with trees, shrubs, benches and other landscaping features that will appeal to non-skaters and skaters alike.

"Right now, it's so unattractive," he said. "Nobody want to go down into a cage with holes in the ramps. It's not welcoming. We want to turn it into this beautiful park with some shade and a couple of ledges."

The Belfast skate park was built by the late Tom Noble in 2001 with a $150,000 donation from MBNA and $10,000 of city money and named for "Big Poppa" Eric Overlock, a Belfast teen skateboarder who died of an allergy-related asthma attack three years earlier.

Since then, the park has seen only minimal upkeep. In the waning times between piecemeal repairs, it has been an easy target for those who have wanted to see it demolished or relocated.

City officials have shown a protective streak toward skateboarders but have mostly left the upkeep of the park to loosely organized groups of park users willing to do the work themselves.

As a lifelong skater, Cronin has seen the ups and downs of the skate park. In 2002, his picture appeared on the front page of the Bangor Daily News above the headline "Slashing could lead to fall of skate park."

Less than six months after it opened, the skate park already had been implicated in a "turf war." One teen was assaulted with a box cutter and another beat up, apparently in retribution. Cronin, who was 14 years old at the time, appeared in the photo grinding a rail on behalf of the lawful majority.

The chain-link fence went up in 2008, after complaints from neighbors that the park had become overrun by rowdy non-skaters, who were drinking, using drugs and harassing the park's regular users. The city employed part-time attendants at the gate, and the move was welcomed by skateboarders who felt they could now use the park without being harassed.

Cronin said the fence didn't do much for the long-term appeal of the park, but skaters have continued to use it.

As recently as two or three years ago, Cronin estimated the skate park drew 10 to 20 kids per day. In terms of total hours of use, he ranked it higher than many of the city's parks. Use has dropped off more recently as the park has fallen into disrepair.

Overlock Park Committee may get further than its predecessors. The group has among its membership a professional grant writer, a hired facilitator and others with experience in the money and politics of a large community project.

Currently, the group is working on designs with a Hardcore Skateparks, a subsidiary of American Ramp Co., a Missouri-based company that has built major skate parks around the world. The new Belfast skate park would be built on the location of the current park, Cronin said, but would have a smaller skating area surrounded by green space designed in the spirit of other walkways and parks downtown.

The committee is trying to raise $225,000 for the new park. Cronin said the actual price will probably be less, factoring in donated labor and non-specialized groundwork that could be done by the city or contracted out cheaply.

As of June 9, he said, the group had raised $37,000, including $10,000 donated by Central Maine Power Co. when the utility removed a defunct coal gasification plant across the street from the skate park.

"This is a very organized plan to make something happen," he said. "We've got quite a few people dedicated to the cause (to give it) direction and leadership."

With a major redevelopment planned across the street and a number of recent downtown pedestrian improvements, keeping the skate park in good shape might be easier in the future. Particularly, Cronin said, if people want to go there.

"The more people who can use it," he said, "whether it's a skate park or a nice place to read a book — the more universal it is, the more it will be used."

Overlock Park Committee was scheduled to host a community forum about the future of the skate park on June 14. For more information, visit facebook.com/belfastskatepark.

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