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Middlebury skatepark advances

LOU QUACKENBUSH SKATING — two ways — at East Middlebury’s Harold Curtiss Park last weekend at a Middlebury Skatepark Project popup event that drew about 30 people. Photo/Jill Quackenbush

MIDDLEBURY — A grassroots effort to install a 7,500-square-foot, concrete skatepark in Middlebury’s recreation park has been on a gnarly trajectory, with organizers hoping to airwalk the project to fruition by next fall so thrashers can begin banging out ollies.

Translation from skateboard lingo: Organizers are building a solid foundation for Middlebury’s first skatepark, a facility that enthusiasts of all ages have been touting for years. It’s to be located on a portion of the Rec Park south of the town swimming pool.

Members of the Middlebury Skatepark Project (MSP) board on April 11 gave the town selectboard an update on the budding project, which gained significant traction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other things, the skatepark board has in recent months:

• Secured 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

• Begun holding fundraising events, including a well-attended soiree at Middlebury’s Notte last fall that brought in more than $5,400.

• Identified grants for which the skatepark is eligible. Among them are opportunities through the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative, Building Communities Recreation, and Land and Water Conservation Fund programs.

“This spring will be the start of a season of fundraising for us; as we’ve now received our 501(c)3 status, we are creating a list of prospects to contact for major donations and seed funding, as well as planning fundraising events and other grassroots fundraising campaigns over the summer,” MSP board Secretary Jill Quackenbush told the board.

The MSP group got additional wind in its fundraising sails on April 11, when the selectboard unanimously endorsed the skatepark effort.

“We agree a skatepark facility will be a popular addition to outdoor recreation options in Middlebury and wholeheartedly support their planning and fundraising efforts,” reads a letter the board provided to the MSP board.

“Skateparks also inspire unstructured play, which is a key contributor to the development and mental health of adolescents,” the letter continues. “As young people recover from the period of isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, they need more outlets for healthy outdoor activities that allow them to socialize, express themselves and build community. We also recognize the economic benefits of a professionally designed, one-of-a-kind concrete skatepark facility and believe it will draw visitors from nearby towns and regions to Middlebury’s core downtown district.”

• Arrived at a very rough construction estimate of $330,000 to $525,000 for the new skatepark, a number that will in part depend on the cost of materials and the complexity of the facility design.

The Public Skatepark Development Guide (publicskateparkguide.org) offers a lineup of potential funding sources — and amounts — that skatepark organizers typically tap for their capital campaigns. The guide says a skatepark project usually includes an average of $142,000 in county, state or federal funds and grants; $99,000 in municipal funding; $38,000 through area civic organizations; $28,000 in in-kind donations; $27,000 in grassroots fundraising; and $17,000 in business gifts. Total: $351,000.

The MSP board’s first major outlay is likely to be $30,000 to $50,000 to hire a company to produce a Middlebury skatepark design. 

“(The design) would take us from initial concepts all the way to finished construction drawings,” Quackenbush said. “We’re optimistic about the enthusiasm and generosity of our community and we hope that we will be able to start the design process this summer, and then have designs in hand before winter. Having those designs completed will help us to fundraise and win grants for the construction costs.”

Reaching a variety of project planning benchmarks has been satisfying for MSP board members, but they’re not resting on their laurels. The group will continue to meet regularly and stay in touch with town officials — including Middlebury Parks & Recreation Department Superintendent Dustin Hunt and Bill Kernan, director of operations for the town’s department of public works.

“We’ve done research on permits, including having the wetlands near the site surveyed and flagged by a state wetlands ecologist to determine the buffer setback, and meeting with the UVM landscape design class that has been tasked with finding creative solutions for stormwater management at the Rec Park,” Quackenbush said. 

The town of Middlebury is looking to sign a new 25-year lease for use of the Rec Park land, which is owned by the Addison Central School District. And the MSP board is urging the board to suggest new lease language acknowledging both the skatepark and a new pump track that’s also slated for Rec Park land.

Specifically, MSP officials want both amenities “open to the public anytime the park is open, even during school hours at Mary Hogan. We think it’s essential for these new rec facilities to be accessible to the public at all times during the day, except perhaps in the instance of the school reserving them for PE or special classes,” Quackenbush said.

Enthusiasm for the skatepark is building, according to selectboard member Isabel Gogarty, who’s also a wellness educator at Middlebury Union Middle School.

She told her colleagues many middle schoolers are “obsessed” with having a skatepark.

“We have young people who are really looking forward to this,” she said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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