NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Any doubt that a skate board park would not be welcome, or used, by the younger community was put to rest on Saturday afternoon as dozens of boarders and bikers sped and flipped in a chaotic ballet across the smooth expanse of concrete and launched into the air.
"I think the turnout speaks for itself," Brandy LaBelle, one of the initial movers of the park, said. "Look at everyone that's here today for this, look at all the different age groups that are working together, that are being united and I think that's exactly what UNITY is for."
The park's been named for UNITY, the United, Neighboring, Interdependent, Trusted Youth program of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, in recognition of the teen group's efforts over the past seven or eight years to push the project ahead.
Alcombright, sporting a T-shirt with the park's name, summed it up: "They wanted a skate park."
"My skepticism made them jump through some hoops, gather some information, do some surveys, give me the opportunity to make sure this was the right thing to do," he said. "This group also didn't understand the word no ... it was a process and seven years later folks, here we are. ...
"It was the drive, the determination and the hard work of our youth that built this park today."
LaBelle was in the youth group that first went to the City Council back in 2010 asking for support for a skate board park. And on Saturday afternoon, she participated in the ribbon cutting that officially opened in the skate and BMX bike park at the Noel Field Athletic Complex.
"I think this is an awesome outlet for teens," she said. "My group actually came up with the idea for this and the [ROOTS] Teen Center ... I think this is fantastic. I'm really excited about everything this brings to the table."
City Councilor Kate Hanley Merrigan, who was a UNITY coordinator when the project was first broached, said seeing the park and the hundreds gathered for the opening was an emotional moment.
"When I pulled in and couldn't find a parking spot, I got choked up immediately," she said, adding the park "exceeded her expectations." "I believed and the data suggested it would get a lot of use but seeing the people here using it and celebrating its opening is pretty overwhelming ...
"I'm really excited for the young people who worked on it. This is a really object lesson in that it doesn't hurt to ask."
The concrete portion was designed by Spohn Ranch Skate Parks, which took input from the community, and the layout and accessories (including ensuring parking for the adjacent Hot Dot Ranch) by Julie Sniezek of Guntlow & Associates. It would Sniezek's last project with the city, as she's starting a new job with Williams College next week.
"This is one of my most favorite projects in my 25 years of design work," said Schneider, who's also worked on the city's playgrounds and Alcombright Field. "It's a different audience and it's so nice to see so many different ages and they're all respectful to one another. ...
"It was a wonderful experience and the city was so good to work with."
The gathering Saturday included city officials and department heads, including Michael Nuvallie of the Office of Community Development, who helped shepherd the project along and is charged with completing that end of Noel Field with a splash park and new basketball courts. The Hot Dog Ranch offered refreshments, WUPE-FM radio was on hand with music and The Garden board shop of Pittsfield participated. There were also giveaways and raffles.
Mayor Richard Alcombright, who called this "the coolest thing I've ever been involved with," noted the many people responsible for bringing the park to fruition as well as the absence of the late state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, who had planned to attend.
Merrigan cut the blue ribbon with LaBelle and the brief ceremony quickly retreated as the boarder and bikers ranging from 2 to 30 eagerly recaptured the space.
"Kids are passionate and I think that's overlooked as being stubborn or being too persisent and not knowing what no is but we're passionate and when we want something, we're willing to fight for it, we're willing to work for it," LaBelle said. "I think this speaks for itself."
But it was a long road to get to Saturday. The desire for a skate board park predates the involvement of LaBelle group; there had been other attempts over the years.
Gail Grandchamp recalled how she and volunteers had cleared land near the corner of River and Houghton streets in hopes of creating a skate park.
"We couldn't get enough funding or permits to do it," she said, wishing that a friend, Justin Filiault, had lived long enough to see it come to fruition.
"This is exactly what he wanted," Grandchamp said. "If he was here, he would love it. I know that sunshine shining down is him."
Merrigan remembered how when she was in high school, the City Council at the time had banned skateboarding downtown and a classmate had fired off an angry letter to the editor. She laughed saying she should text him, "Hey, come down, we fixed it."
It would take a confluence of research and persistance from UNITY, an supportive City Council and mayor, and access to grant funding to make the $676,000 skate and BMX bike park possible.
"It's got this wonderfully mixed ages of kids on bikes and boards and little scooters and everybody seems to be having fun," the mayor said. "It's a really lot of fun."
Anthony Lapedota of North Adams and his friend, Jay Schaffrick of Adams, said they'd definitely be using the park in the future.
"It's awesome, really smooth, built nice," Lapedota said. Schaffrick said they've been using the parks in Adams and Pittsfield, but this one definitely passed inspection.
"We've been waiting a long time, a long time for a nice ride up this way," Lapedota said.
Professional BMX rider Jake Seeley, who attended schools in Williamstown and North Adams and recently returned to the area, gave the park a seal of approval.
"This park is awesome, I've been to parks all over the world and I haven't been to too many parks that flow this well," he said. "Everything is picture perfect to the sizing."
There are smaller, less intimidating features for younger kids and newcomers, but also bigger and unique features for riders with more experience who want to progress, Seeley said. He also liked the large number of younger kids at the park, seeing them as the future of BMX biking and skate boarding.
The sport can be very individualized as each rider brings their own personality to their moves, and it offers an outlet for youth who might not be interested in traditional sports, like team sports he said.
"It's great that the town and community is starting to recognize how important these type of things are to a certain community," Seeley said. "It gives them something to be passionate about, to strive to work better at and to learn new things every day."
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