Vergennes reopens skate park

VERGENNES — After being closed for more than two months after summer vandalism incidents, the Vergennes skate park re-opened on Nov. 6 with two key changes: Adult volunteers are overseeing it, and users must wear helmets.
Alderman David Austin, who heads a committee that worked to reopen the facility near Vergennes Union Elementary School and is also working to ensure its long-term health, said tentative hours are from 3 p.m. until dark weekdays and noon until 4 p.m. on weekends.
Those hours do hinge on whether volunteers can make it to the East Street park. But the committee members believed that the park would be open regularly enough to make it worth the effort, and they hope to create some momentum for next year.
“It’s not set in stone. It depends on people’s availability,” Austin said. “But we wanted to at least get it open.”
Austin credited volunteer Sherm Grant, who has stepped forward to take the afternoon shifts, during which up to a dozen users have been showing up.
“He’s just been great,” Austin said.
Both the new rules, supervision and helmets, were strongly suggested by the city’s insurance company because of potential liability to the city. Austin said even though some parks elsewhere in Vermont do not mandate either supervision or helmets, liability issues and the summer vandalism convinced the city council both were necessary in Vergennes.
“The kids have been really good in terms of understanding the reasons we have to do this,” Austin said. “I have had some questions from adults … but I’m representing the interests of the residents of Vergennes … I’m not responsible for the Bristol skate park. I’m not responsible for the Burlington skate park.”
City Manager Mel Hawley agreed that supervision and helmets are musts. He said he hopes that volunteers can continue to staff the park, but that if not, “we would have to look at some sort of paid staff.”
Hawley, who was not on the job when the park was created, would not recommend staff be funded by the city budget. Options might include instead a charge to use the park; support for the facility from the city’s Watershed Fund, which is dedicated to recreation; or a combination of both.
“It’s my understanding … that this was not to be a financial burden to the taxpayers,” Hawley said.
Austin said the park committee would be meeting over the winter to plan for its future, with fund-raising high on the list of questions to be considered, along with plans to maintain, supervise, upgrade and schedule hours for the park.
“I’d like to operate that facility with as little additional financial burden to the city as possible,” he said.
Austin also addressed the vandalism, most of which occurred in bathrooms contained in a shed attached to the park. The vandal or vandals accessed the shed from the park, but Austin is among those who believes the culprit is not a skater.
“I’m 100 percent convinced it was not a user of the skate park that was responsible for the vandalism,” he said. “This is a good group of kids.”
Still, the upgrades being discussed include motion lights and improvements to the park fencing, and Austin said those will almost certainly be done.
Austin also made a plea for donated helmets, which not all skaters have and not all can readily afford. Those who have a helmet that can be spared may drop it off at Main Street Footworks or at City Hall, he said.
In all, Austin is excited that the skate park is back online, and that its future looks promising.
“One of the things I’ve heard from the kids that have used it is it’s one of the nicest ones around,” he said.

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