Uphill battle to restore the Greenport Skate Park

08/08/2013 6:00 AM |

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Beau Pollock, 20, of Greenport is a regular at the skate park that opened in the Village 15 years ago. But these days volunteers and village officials are wondering just how much the public wants the facility, considering how it has been allowed to fall into disrepair.

When the Greenport Skate Park was built in 1998, it was touted as an innovative creative outlet in a town with few ways for youths to express themselves.

The 20,000-square-foot facility was considered state-of-the-art, boasting a concrete street course and wooden ramps of various sizes. The village’s $200,000 investment seemed to be paying off in 2000, when an article published in Transworld Skateboarding magazine hailed the facility’s design as the standard upon which all skate parks should be modeled.

That’s difficult for some of today’s skaters to believe.

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | Greenport officials said this week that village workers clean the skate park on Moore’s Lane weekly.

After 15 years, graffiti now spells out obscene messages and anti-Semitic symbols dot the park. Holes the size of volleyballs have eaten through the ramps and trash litters the ground beneath them.

“It’s dangerous to be there,” said Michelle Bendik, co-organizer of the Greenport Skate Park Festival, which will take place at the park this weekend.

Along with her husband, Michael, Ms. Bendik launched the annual event five years ago in an effort to restore the park to its former glory. But it has proven to be an uphill battle.

“We peaked the second year of the festival,” she said. “It’s not a priority for the village. The community needs to want it and they don’t seem to want it anymore. Because it’s unsupervised and has a reputation as a place where kids go to fool around, there is no respect or ownership.”

Village administrator David Abatelli said the biggest reason the park has fallen into disrepair is that no maintenance plan was in place when the park opened in 1998. The small amount budgeted for its upkeep goes primarily toward the cost of insurance and weekly garbage pickup, he said.

“The kids are lucky it’s still there and that we haven’t taken it down,” Mr. Abatelli said this week. “Most of the people that use it don’t treat it right.”

Mr. Abatelli admits that the festival motivates the village to do a more thorough cleanup of the skate park the day before the event.

“It’s frustrating to send someone there to clean it and a week later it’s trashed again,” he said. “We can’t have an armed guard there all the time.”

The idea for the facility came about in 1995 when a group of young skaters took it upon themselves to erect ramps behind an abandoned restaurant in town, according to the 2000 article in Transworld Skateboarding.

The community deemed the makeshift park an eyesore and it was promptly dismantled. However, the actions of the skaters caused village officials to take note of the need for a public skate park.

Three years later, the park opened to rave reviews and even drew professional skaters like Andy Macdonald, Neal Hendrix and Billy Rohan to the village.

While the skate park remained popular through the 2000s, the need for a maintenance plan was obvious in the later part of the decade. In 2008, the Bendiks, who grew up skating on Long Island, took up the cause to restore the park. Initially, they had big plans.

Ms. Bendik said they set out intending to transform the rundown skate park into a family-friendly community hub. The couple’s three-phase plan was to begin with resurfacing the park, then rebuilding the ramps and finally adding picnic tables, a playground and a dog park.

“There would be something for everyone,” Ms. Bendik said.

The couple, who splits time their between Greenport and their home outside Pittsburgh, Pa., hoped the first Skate Park Festival would raise enough money to at least repave the park, a projected estimated in 2010 to cost about $50,000. Three years later, they say they’ve raised nowhere near enough money to satisfy that initial goal.

She said this year’s Greenport Skate Park Festival, scheduled for Saturday, could be the last.

“It’s hard to keep it going when we’re so far away,” Ms. Bendik said. “It’s disappointing. The park is important for the community.”

But the future of the Greenport Skate Park may not be so grim.

In the spirit of the ragtag group of kids who initially sought to open a skate park in the first place, Matthew Drobny, a 16-year-old BMX rider who attends classes at Greenport High School, has quietly begun a local effort to restore the facility.

The 16-year-old started the Facebook group “Fix Greenport Skate Park” in 2011 and has gained a loyal group of followers.

“I thought if we get enough people and the town sees this then maybe they will think about fixing it up for all of us to do our thing,” he said.

While the effort has been slow to start, Matthew said he plans to speak with the village and hold rallies to bolster support.

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