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Residents and teens rally for a skate park

Skater prepares to jump a makeshift hill made from a garbage can.
Skater prepares to jump a makeshift hill made from a garbage can.

With the good weather finally upon us, outdoor activities are bound to increase. But where can teens in the area go for today’s type of recreation?

Skater jumps over a garbage can during rally

On April 5th, residents gathered at Laurelton Park to rally for a skate park. A skate park is designed specifically for today’s skating culture: inline skates, skateboards, bmx bikes, scooters, roller blades, roller skates and the like. The parks contain structures with rails, ramps, ledges, pyramids and banks that allow skaters to move, jump, spin and spike. That’s right, skating is no longer a straight line sport.

Laurelton Park is located alongside of the Belt Parkway and accessible by using Laurelton Parkway. It is divided into two parts: a playground with a colorful jungle gym structure and a flat open expanse typically used for softball. On the day of the rally, teens were using the space to skate. The surface was relatively smooth and the teens put a garbage can on its side to practice jumps.

Gregory Mays, former candidate for NYC Council and Founder of A Better Jamaica, is at the forefront of this push for a skate park. He has been championing for one for the past several years. Various sites were examined, namely Van Dohlen Park and Roy Wilkins Park. He is hoping Laurelton Park can be converted.

Why does Laurelton Park fit the bill for a skate park? “Asphalt already exists, the asphalt is underutilized and there is evidence of skaters’” said Greg.

Greg became a champion for this cause watching the challenges his nephew faced finding a place to skate in the area. They are the same challenges faced by Timothy Reed. This skateboarder lives several minutes away near Merrick Boulevard. “It would be nice to have one close by,” he said.

Civic leaders and elected officials supported the idea. Fred Simmons, community liaison for NYS Senator Malcolm Smith said the Senator was “very supportive…[and we are] trying to make this happen”

Dwight Johnson, President Federated Block of Laurelton, also came out in support of the initiative. “It is a good start. We have nothing here. Our kids need as much activity as they can get,” he said.

But not everyone was happy. A resident who lives in close proximity to the park, who did not want her name published, was concerned about the changes to the neighborhood such a park might encourage. “I believe in children having a place to go,” she said. “But don’t come in and change the flavor [of the area]. Fit in.” She was concerned with the growing number of kids in the area, an increase in the noise level, the proximity to the homes and who would be responsible for maintenance.

Queens currently has four skate parks: Astoria, Far Rockaway, Flushing Meadows and Forest Park. That would seem like plenty, but for the skaters in Southeast Queens, it is an issue.

With the exception of the Far Rockaway Park, these parks are located a good distance from skaters in Southeast Queens. The challenges with the Far Rockaway Park for SEQ residents is that most skating modes of transportation, especially bikes, are not permitted on buses. That would include the buses that link the neighborhoods of the mainland to Far Rockaway peninsula.

That might not seem to be a major hurdle. However, these transportation issues raise the likelihood of skaters being summoned. Skaters who practice in public areas, due to lack of a park, take public transportation with their vehicles or are even dressed in the street garb typical of the skating lifestyle are oftentimes stopped by police and harassed by residents, making them more likely to receiving summonses. Summonses can impair the ability of these teens to gain employment or qualify for better continuing education options in their later years.

Skateboarding is the third most popular sport for teens (behind Football and basketball).

To join the fight for a skate park, sign their petition at sk8jamaica.

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