Support for skate park goes viral after officials announce new restrictions

Support for skate park goes viral after officials announce new restrictions

Dominic Chute pops a wheelie on a BMX bike during an afternoon ride at the skate park in June. Under new regulations posted last week, bikes like Chute’s, along with scooters, are no longer allowed at the park. (Breeze photos by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – City residents are circulating an online petition calling for changes at the Hamlet Avenue skate park after officials posted new regulations restricting the park to skateboarders and in-line skaters, excluding BMX bike and scooter riders, last week.

The incident is the latest clash in an ongoing conflict between park advocates and city officials since the park first opened near Woonsocket Middle School in August 2017. Last month, The Valley Breeze reported on efforts by park advocates, led by Craft Skate & BMX Shop owner Susan Kirwan, to secure additional investment from the city in the form of new equipment to supplement the donated equipment currently filling the space.

Last Friday, Kirwan, who had previously told The Breeze she may need to close her shop if it did not see the increase in traffic she anticipated a larger and fully-outfitted park would bring, announced on Facebook she intended to close the shop. The post was immediately met with an outpouring of support from the city’s skating community, which had used the shop, located on Hamlet Avenue adjacent to the park, as a gathering space.

“It is with deepest regret that I announce the closing of Craft Skate & BMX Shop,” wrote Kirwan. “After five-plus years of advocating for these athletes and the skate park, I found out that the city had no plans to create a finished, quality, safe place for our children to practice (other than the donated equipment) and now they have prohibited BMX riders and scooters from the park.”

According to Public Works Director Steven D’Agostino, who spoke to The Breeze by phone on Monday, the policy change came about in response to concerns expressed by the Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust, which was due to begin covering the park under the city’s insurance policy this week. Though the park was not originally included under the city’s policy, representatives of the trust toured the park in March in anticipation of bringing the park under its policy.

“When they first came down to tour the park, inspect the park, if you will, they gave us a list of things we needed to comply with,” said D’Agostino.

Those things included removing private equipment (Kirwan’s) from the park area and posting safety rules and guidelines. In March, city officials posted signs reading “Skate park closed under renovations” until the liability concerns expressed by the trust could be addressed.

“We have a responsibility, an obligation to the taxpayers of this city to make sure we are never in a position of liability,” said D’Agostino. “We have to comply with all the insurance company’s demands, and when they sign off and say that we’re in compliance, then there’s no longer an issue.”

Interlocal Trust Executive Director Ian Ridlon clarified that restricting use of the park to skateboarders and in-line skaters was a recommendation by the trust to city officials, not a condition for coverage under the city’s policy, but that the trust supports the city’s decision to exclude BMX bikes and scooters from the park. According to Ridlon, the presence of bikes and scooters in a small park designed for skateboards poses a safety concern, and the trust would recommend that the city designate different use times or create a separate area of the park if they decided to allow bikes in the park.

“We’re weighing users’ safety. We’re trying to make it so that people can use this and be safe at the same time,” said Ridlon.

The explanation wasn’t satisfactory for park advocates, who claim the term “skate park” is generally inclusive of all wheeled sports and that many parks around the country, including some in Rhode Island, allow bikers and skateboarders to use the equipment at the same time. Brenda Galvin, a city parent and park advocate who said she’s known Kirwan since their children attended elementary school together, pointed out that BMX riders have been using the park regularly since August and have not run into issues with city officials or other park users until now.

“I was upset because more than half of the kids are on bicycles, and if you look at the videos of the groundbreaking and everything, there’s at least 20 kids sitting there on bicycles,” she said. “So to take it away now, after however many months it’s been open, it’s just ridiculous.”

Galvin also expressed frustration that city officials never invested funds or applied for grants to purchase new equipment to supplement the donated equipment at the park, a long-term solution she and other park advocates claim was promised to them at the groundbreaking ceremony last year.

“It’s a sport just like any other. Not every kid is into your regular sports like basketball, football, soccer,” she said. “The city needs to do more for the kids. All children, not just one in particular.”

On Friday, Galvin created an online petition on change.org sharing Kirwan’s message regarding her shop and calling on city officials to upgrade the park. The petition quickly went viral, with residents of the city and the larger skating community reaching out to express their support for the park. As of press time on Tuesday, 1,071 people had signed the petition and Kirwan’s original Facebook post had been shared 559 times.

Reached by phone on Monday, Kirwan said she is uncertain whether the shop will close after all given the outpouring of support, but remains frustrated at the new regulations that she says will alienate 85 percent of the park’s users. After a tense standoff with police on Thursday during which she unbolted the sign stating the new park regulations before putting it back up, she said police have been making regular patrols of the area and asking BMX riders to leave the park.

Captain Michael Lemoine of the Woonsocket Police Department confirmed the department was notified of the policy change and began enforcing it last week, though he said the department does not intend to maintain a regular police presence at the park.

“We don’t have an officer sitting there making sure nobody with a bicycle is there, but if an officer patrolling drives by and sees somebody on a BMX bike in the park, of course we expect him to do his job and ask somebody to leave,” he said.

Though D’Agostino said the city has no intention of closing the park, supporters continue to express concerns online about the park’s future under its new regulations. Its patrons, meanwhile, are furious with the rules and in a state of panic, according to Kirwan.

“They’re tremendously upset and feel betrayed,” she said of the city’s young BMX bikers.

A sign posted last week specifies that “bicycles, scooters, go-peds, and motarized vehicles are prohibited in the skate park.”

Comments

It is a SKATE PARK. And if they allow bikers, etc, the skaters will be overrun, no need to argue, it will be so. Even one biker can make things a nightmare, esp when they wear no safety equipment for themselves, surely shows they care little for the next guy too.
A very tiring thing happening all over, is taking all the complaining to the media in the hopes it gets the rules to change in your favor. Wrong. Rules are rules, will always be, so learn to follow them with respect for the leadership that cares more for your safety than you do apparently. Reckless behaving folk make it miserable at places designed for good clean fun. Respect the rules, the parks, and the people. Simple really.

Lots of skateparks, all over the country, allow bikes and scooters. BMX kids and skate kids are often friends and hang out together, they aren't rival gangs. It's a rule that does nothing but diminish the use of the park. It's there, let the kids do what they do. Change the name to Skate and Bike park if it makes you happy.