Skateboarding Community Urges Stafford Officials to Consider New Skate Park

By Victoria Ford | Nov 27, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Stafford Township — Members of the skateboarding community filled the Stafford Township municipal meeting room on Nov. 19 to present their case for a new skate park. More than a dozen skaters spoke during public comment, citing physical and mental health benefits and added economic value to the town.

Heading up the effort is Frank Cannavo of Lally Lane, who was the first to address the mayor and council. “I brought my friends this time,” he said. He pressed officials for information and help on how to move forward with planning a location, design, and fundraising strategy.

“I feel like we got 19 baseball fields, and maybe we could yield one of those to a skate park,” Cannavo suggested. “These kids need some place to go. Just because they don’t conform to society and want to play baseball, they want to do what they want to do; they should still be considered and taken care of.”

Mayor Greg Myhre said, “It’s not something that’s necessarily off the table or on the table.”

The old skate park in Ocean Acres that was closed years ago is remembered as a failure because it was poorly designed and therefore unappealing to skaters; it was in a tucked-away, residential area; it became an attractive nuisance characterized by littering, vulgarity and vandalism and was ultimately buried. No one, including the neighbors in that location, wants to see it unearthed and reopened.

In coming months, Stafford Township will be working on its 10-year capital plan. Officials are open to having meetings and discussions about a skate park as long as the skate park proponents do their due diligence in the research and information gathering for possible plans. Township Administrator Matthew von der Hayden reminded everyone the governing body would need to consider construction, insurance and ancillary costs associated with a skate park.

Anthony Devecka of Toms River was involved in the years-long process of getting Toms River’s newly approved park into its capital budget; he said the key is to get a reputable professional skate park company to build it in a high-visibility location. Brick Township’s skate park at Bernard Cooke Memorial Park cost $300,000, he said. Brick now has two skate parks. Barnegat just reinvested in its skate park with upgrades and improvements. Ocean County currently has nine or 10 other successful skate parks. In terms of risk, a standard playground slide is taller than a skate ramp, Devecka said; football is more injury-intensive.

As Matt Vereb of Beach Avenue pointed out, skateboarding is now an Olympic sport.

No one is questioning the legitimacy of the activity, Myhre said. As far as recreation goes, people have a lot of ideas. For example, many residents want a dog park. The point is everything must be carefully weighed before any decisions get made that could impact taxpayers.

Luke Reynolds of Cedar Run suggested transforming the existing original roller hockey court. As it is, the surface material is not suitable for roller hockey (“If you put a kid in roller blades on it, they fall, so people just don’t use it”), but the court might be retrofitted for skateboarding, he said.

Myhre told the skaters he was glad they attended and shared their ideas and commended them for their civic engagement. “We try to make the best, most informed decisions we can,” he said.

“I like skateboarding – I used to do it when I was younger,” Myhre continued. “Maybe there are too many baseball fields. I don’t know.”

Councilman Robert Henken agreed. “We’re not saying no; we’re just saying we gotta work on it. I skateboard almost every week.”

Michael Verbeke of Atlantis Avenue recalled from firsthand experience the problems associated with the old park in Ocean Acres, which was about 200 feet from his house. He described it as “a nightmare.” Noise was excessive, rules were violated, fights broke out, drugs were used openly and paraphernalia discarded, employees quit, police couldn’t patrol it, and it was basically “a free-for-all.” A surveillance camera was installed, but it was stolen. “Attempts were made to control it, but it was just an uncontrollable environment.”

Joe Mangino of William Cook Boulevard said he was involved in discussions a few years back with the previous administration, during which a fundraising plan was drafted and local businesses’ support enlisted. Possible grants were identified and a rough design was started. He suggested the leaders of the current movement could get together and revisit the groundwork already laid, then talk to the township administrator about costs and next steps.

Don Miller of Tuckerton, owner of the former Surf Shack, lamented the apparent lack of progress.

Myhre said the skate park idea was brought up to the new administration this summer, and now it’s only November. “We don’t just rush into things,” he said. “I know the speed of government may not be what you want it to be, but at the same time, we’re willing to talk about it, meet about it, check it out.”

Councilman George Williams ruffled feathers by stating his concerns, aside from the cost, include vandalism and behavior problems. “I want to make sure there’s not gonna be broken beer bottles there. I want to make sure there’s not gonna be drug use there.”

The skaters’ tone became more defensive after his remarks, with many insisting that image is untrue and unfair.

“No one came up here and said we want a place to do drugs and break beer bottles,” Hope Maugeri of Manor Drive said. “We want a safe space.”

John Borsellino of Beach Haven backed her up. “One thing I want to clarify is that we are not drug addicts,” he said. “When you have a skate park that’s built by professionals, built by skateboarders for skateboarders, the community comes together and they police it themselves. They don’t allow graffiti; they don’t allow drug use, alcohol use, bad language.”

Williams walked back his drug use comments and said he was referring to the bad behavior that already goes on at other existing parks in town. “No one is labeling you.”

Nathan LaRussa, 16, of Waretown said skateboarding changed his life by easing his anxiety and helping him to lose weight. Skateboarding keeps kids away from drugs, keeps them social and active, a benefit to the community. “We’re ready to take on this challenge.” Teen Ian Walsh of Barnegat said skateboarding turned his life around, too, and he wants other kids to have the same opportunity.

The older generation of skaters expressed their intention to teach and guide younger skaters and monitor the activity at the park.

Jon Coen of Ship Bottom has a 7-year-old son who is getting into skating. Think about the park as an asset, he urged officials. People would come to Stafford from elsewhere and likely shop at local businesses while they’re in town.

“The old park was useless, and that’s why it wasn’t protected. … When you do have a functional park, it’s going to be self-policed because we’re not going to want to lose it.”

— Victoria Ford

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