BELFAST — Now might be a time when most everyone is thinking about slipping and sliding more than rolling, but skateboarding enthusiasts here are making a case for a permanent skateboard park nonetheless.
Since a temporary skateboard park opened at the Washington Street parking lot two years ago, Belfast has become something of a regional hub for boarders, drawing users from Bangor, Ellsworth and all over Waldo County. The park is equipped with homemade jumps and ramps made of plywood and planks. Almost 200 skaters competed at one of two major tournaments held at the park in the past two years, according to Al Douglas, the chair of the Belfast Parks and Recreation Commission. “As far as I know, this is the only free skateboarding park in the state of Maine,” Douglas said.
Bad news from the city’s insurance carrier in November has spurred skateboarders and recreation commission members to begin earnestly lobbying for the sport. The insurance carrier notified the city that it would no longer include liability coverage for the temporary skateboard park as of Nov. 15. By that date the park had been disassembled for the winter, according to Bob Keating, the acting city administrator.
But an estimated price tag of $15,000 for additional annual liability coverage has had city officials wondering if the cost is worth it. Such speculation seems to have galvanized skaters to lobby more vigorously for a permanent skate park.
Keating, who will return to his position as public works director after a city manager is hired, said he has long been an advocate for the existing skateboard park. “Before two years ago we were telling young people, `You can’t skate here’ or `You can’t skate there.’ And the number-one thing that those kids would say back to police was `Well, where can we go?”‘
The skateboarders and some parents eventually organized and asked the council to consider designating a space for skating. Keating said he noticed that the Washington Street parking lot, which is in the heart of downtown, was consistently half empty. The lower half of the lot was eventually designated as a skateboard park, and skaters built and maintain the ramps and jumps.
“It’s been very successful,” Keating said. And despite the scuffed elbows and fractures that some skaters have experienced, there have been no liability claims to the city, he said.
Douglas said that nationally, according to insurance industry statistics, claims against cities for skateboarding accidents are fewer than for most other sports.
The commission is considering building a permanent skating park about 12,000 to 20,000 square feet in size, which could cost from $50,000 to $150,000. Douglas expects that a site plan could come before the city council by the end of this summer.
Keating said that he believes the city should pay the liability premium for skateboarding and make sure the temporary park is open this summer.