Riders “Rampage” At New Planned Mecca

Augie Gray Photo Allan Appel Photo Skateboarders gathered at their longtime park Wednesday night not to do tricks on the concrete, but to help a new city-hired spraypaint-wielding builder map the “clam shells” and “tombstones” that will flow into a new stat-of-the-art venue.

The brainstorming took place at the city’s popular but fraying skateboard park by Coogan Pavilion in Edgewood Park.

City parks chief Becky Bombero called together veteran skateboards young and old to announce that the city is spending $150,000 in two phases to fix the crumbling current park and build a new one next to it on mitigated wetlands leading to the West River, promising to make the spot an even bigger regional draw than it now is.

David Sepulveda Photo She also introduced the the builder the city has hired to carry out the plan: Dave Peterson of Bridgeport-based Rampage Skate Shop. He beat out some larger companies in a competitive-bidding process because of his local experience and connections to New Haven skaters.

That connection was display Wednesday night’s gathering a follow-up to a January community meeting where skateboarders urged Bombero not to demolish their beloved park, to which an estimated 150 skateboarders and stunt-riders flock each week. The skateboarders ponied up not just suggestions but offers of volunteer work to help make the plan a reality.

The new plan will “bring life to the existing park that people love, and gives new ramps, obstacles, new opportunities for skaters,” said Tom Albin, a longtime visitor.

Frank Virzi As the attendees rambled the site and proposed features, skateboarder Albin recalled that he and his good friend Jordan Syrop have been coming to the skate park since they began Co-Op High School, from which they graduated in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

“We’d take the B1 [bus] down here, hang out until it’s dark. It’s still the most important thing in my life,” said Albin, now in his early 20s and working as a mechanic repairing small motors in Branford.

“I think about going skating all day,” he added.

At this point, the only hard decision made about the new park is that concrete, not the current asphalt, will form the base, because it is less more abrasive when skaters take spills.

The new park will run approximately the same length and extend south towards the river to approximately the line of the driveway and incorporate some of the trees on the site.

Peterson took spray paint to delineate rails and ledges — narrow structures onto which skate boarders can leap —that might serve as a kind of transition from the old park to the proposed park. Skateboarders offered suggestions, which Peterson duly sketched on a clipboard with the plan to incorporate them into a formal plan in coming weeks.

Local regular Jake Shaker, a skateboarder from his youth and now a researcher at the Yale School of Public Health, described the current park as a bit of a “bummer.” It has no real flow, just objects to negotiate, which takes a lot of pushing with the foot, he said. Skaters dream of endless flow.

As he put it: “The dream [of the skateboarder] is no matter where you’re coming from, you have something else, another obstacle”— a ramp, a “tombstone,” a “clam shell” —“to give you momentum to continue.”

A skater himself, Peterson not only took notes; he spoke the language. He suggested three-foot stairs to leap at the western end of the new facility and others that grow in height to about six-foot towards the east, in the corner, a jump that he said was “getting gnarly.”

When the group came to a large tree at the eastern end of the site, Peterson called out to landscape architect David Moser of the City Plan Department: “Can we bank the corner and flow around the tree. And have something really gnarly?” Moser nodded OK.

“Yes, I think this should all be transition, and snake around the tree,” added Brian Clark, another longtime user of the park.

Justin Kearney, a West Havener, also praised the idea of the snaking around the tree, but for a different reason. He’s not a skateboarder but a rider of a BMX bike; Edgewood’s is one of the parks that allow BMX riders and skateboarders to mix. He said if he comes off the turn at the corner of the park that Clark is proposing, without the snake or some transitional flow, “you’ll kill everybody.”

Kearney proposed a “volcano” around the base of the tree so when he comes zooming down on his bike from the corner in the east where the new park and the old meet, he won’t land in the middle of the skate boarders.

Kearney said he like the general drift of the suggestions, which was to add more rails, ledges, more “street stuff,” like the benches at the Beinecke Plaza from which skateboarders are frequently shooed away.

“This will incorporate a whole crew of people who like obstacles, people want to do the work of the trick—the ledge or rail is work—as opposed to launching [more easily] from a ramp,” he said, or from the many “quarter pipes,” the smooth, curved structures that are a main feature of the old skate park.

An open question in his mind and that of others is whether two separate parks will be created—one for performers of older tricks and the new one for the new, more demanding technical style. Or whether Peterson, with the help of the very involved skateboarder “stakeholders,” will succeed in creating a fabulous new long run, a flow that will incorporate both parks as one.

That will be clearer at the next meeting when Peterson unveils the rendering.

Once Peterson and the skateboard crew come up with detailed features, Moser will prepare documents for the next phase: submission of the site plan and coastal site plan for approval by the City Plan Commission.

Because the city is relinquishing the adjacent tract, which is a wetlands, mitigating measures will have to be offered to replace it with a more substantial mitigated wetland parcel than exists to the south closer to the West River.

Plans for that mitigation are inchoate now, and depend on the ultimate design of the new facility. Moser proposed saving money by asking the skaters to volunteer to rip out the invasive Japanese knot-berry at the margin of the adjoining grass. Then plantings more enduring and not invasive can be put in as they run up to the berm of the river.

Almost everybody in the crowd signaled they’d be delighted to do that work, which would save money for more fun stuff. “In my 18 years [in City Plan], this is the best group I’ve worked with,” Moser said, applauding the deep interest and easygoing enthusiasm of the skateboarders.

The budget for the first phase is $70,000, which should be enough to open the park, including $2,500 for repairs of the old, adjacent park, Bombero said. That money was approved in last year’s capital budget; an additional $80,000 will be required to complete the work, but that funding is still subject to upcoming budget negotiations, said Bombero.

She said the park could be open as early as March and, in the worst case scenario, in the summer.
David Sepulveda Photo

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posted by: CT DRV on September 7, 2017  9:41am

Was present last night for this- it was great collaboration between the Parks Department, the skaters, and Dave from Rampage, the vendor. Dave really gets what folks want and is able to speak our language in terms of our needs as skaters.

Given that the current park is literally falling apart at the seams, the new construction (and rehab of all the footings of the existing obstacles) is a boon for the folks that are looking for something new and for the folks who love the parks existing, erm, “charm” as is. Beyond the users of the park, New Haven as a whole stands to benefit as well. Many of us and our friends in the skater community travel to other towns just to visit their parks. More rural places like Groton, Willimantic, and Middlefield all have high-quality public parks that we make weekend meccas to, and we often stop to rehydrate and get drinks, food, and hang around town- a boom to the small businesses around the public skateparks.

A more “professional” park (the current one was built by a concrete sewage piping company some 20+ years ago who had NO idea what they were doing) will also attract folks who are there just to ride and will give a chance for skaters to progress to more difficult obstacles. The new elements will drive increased participation at the park, getting folks up off the couch and physically active.

This is a grade-A example of municipal government department listing to the needs of the public, inviting their input into the process, committing resources, and getting a project accomplished that makes our city a better place to live. Shoutout to Becky and Moser from parks!

posted by: Realmom21 on September 7, 2017  10:43am

THIS IS ABSOLUTELY AWESOME. This is great giving not just young youth options but young adults a say in what they want !
I only know a little about all of this but I do know that many youth once used city structures because they had no alternative.  Giving people more to do always benefits the whole community!

FUNDS SPENT WELL!!!!!!!!!!

posted by: LookOut on September 7, 2017  11:24am

very interesting - combine this with the cycle track on Edgewood Ave and things will be very different around this area by 2018

posted by: ADAK on September 7, 2017  4:06pm

Wish the park felt more modern, and in line with what we typically view a “park”. Right now the current one feels a bit plopped down into a beautiful, natureland.

I dig what Chicago has done with Grant Skatepark. Get some trees and lightposts in there: http://uploads.webflow.com/577ee83897ba26ad3cc0f46d/57c6251bda836fa710e999d4_05Grant-Park-Skate-Plaza.jpg

Side note: Getting rid of wetlands? Please don’t destroy the beauty that is Edgewood Park for concrete piles.

posted by: Seth Poole on September 7, 2017  4:44pm

This is Dope!

Especially so because I attended Edgewood school in the eighties when our parents looked at BMX, freestyle biking, and skating like we had become drug addicts.  There were very few parents advocating on the behalf of a growing sport that has developed into an international pass-time worthy of becoming included in the Olympics. 

I say all that to say, it is time for us to start listening to to our youths and including their input into the infrastructure of our city.

Great job Parks and Rec staff!  See you at the skate park.

posted by: HhE on September 7, 2017  5:24pm

My boys love this park; their Mother takes there first thing in the morning.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on September 8, 2017  12:13am

I echo Dave Moser’s sentiment for this process. This meeting as well as the first have been the most constructive, enthusiastic and participatory public events I’ve attended. Thanks to Dave, Becky, Martin and the rest of the parks crew for activating a park that was considered unsafe when we were growing up.