Stotzky Park’s skate park renamed for Wes Ackley

Riverhead officially renamed the skateboarding facility in Stotzky Park the “Wesley Dean Ackley Skate Park” Sunday. 

Mr. Ackley, who died Jan. 24 following a six-year battle with cancer, was instrumental in convincing the Town Board not to raise fees at the facility, delivering an impassioned speech that convinced board members to drop a planned increase. 

After his death, residents including former deputy supervisor Jill Lewis and business owner Liza Drozd wrote an impassioned letter to the current board urging them to rename the skate park in Mr. Ackley’s honor. 

“Wes loved skateboarding, he loved the difference he made in this world, and he loved Riverhead Skate Park,” the letter read. “He was a strong advocate for the skate park and had a passion that never wavered.”

On Sunday, roughly 100 supporters gathered in Stotzky Park, where many recalled Mr. Ackley’s love of skateboarding.

Mr. Ackley’s parents, Shawn and Christine, and brother, Jake, pulled the curtain from the new sign that reads, “Wesley Dean Ackley Skate Park, Inspiring Kids to Make a Difference.” 

In 2010, at age 14, Mr. Ackley spoke at a Town Board meeting in opposition to raising fees at the skate park.

According to a News-Review article from January 2010, he cautioned board members against raising the fee for a nonresident season pass to $100. Instead, he urged the town to lower the fees, explaining that more kids would want to go if the price was right.

“The town can profit from the park; they just might have to change a few things,” he said at the meeting. “Our skate park is decent, but not $100 worth.” 

Town Board members dropped the proposal and eventually eliminated all fees at the skate park. 

“Everyone is here today because everyone cares,” Councilman Ken Rothwell said Sunday. 

“We’re not just here to honor Wes in his name and his memory, we’re here to honor his commitment,” Mr. Rothwell said. 

Former councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who is now a state assemblywoman, was on the Town Board when Mr. Ackley spoke. 

“I remember seeing this brave young man come before us and say, ‘You can’t raise the fees. I want my friends to be able to come here.’ ”

Former councilman George Gabrielsen said he feels the sign at the park “will be a reminder to kids that they can make a difference.”

Chris Patti, Mr. Ackley’s best friend, took the occasion to launch a new GoFundMe page online to help cover repairs needed at the skate park. 

“Unfortunately, the skate park has faced additional challenges,” he said. “In 2016, much of the skate park’s ramps were removed to make room for pickleball courts that were never built. The resulting swath of vacant cement has sat unused since.”

Mr. Patti said that after speaking with a professional skate park builder, “we came up with a figure of at least $150,000 to renovate the large, vacant space that once was home to the park’s most exciting features.”

“We’re going to rebuild that section of the skate park,” town parks superintendent Ray Coyne said. 

“I want to thank all of our friends and family who took time to come here today and share this dedication of the skate park to Wes’s name,” said Shawn Ackley. “I want all of you to know that everybody here, either directly or indirectly , touched Wesley’s life.” 

He said the message of the day was to “leave a positive mark, wherever you can.”