DRACUT -- The survival of the town's $200,000 skateboard park to see its 10th anniversary in 2016 has become a tricky proposition.

Due to vandalism, trash, and complaints about profanity, smoking and skaters not wearing required helmets, the Dracut Recreation Commission padlocked and closed the park on May 30, less than a week after it had opened for the 2014 summer season.

Recreation Director Lori Cahill told selectmen the park will remain closed through August when the Recreation Commission and selectmen are next scheduled to discuss a revised game plan for the park.

In this photo taken by the Dracut Recreation Department after the Memorial Day weekend, trash can be seen strewn on the ground and benches of the
In this photo taken by the Dracut Recreation Department after the Memorial Day weekend, trash can be seen strewn on the ground and benches of the skateboard park on Pleasant Street, which has been closed for the summer by the town. Courtesy photo/Town of Dracut

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

"There's only so many chances you can get and continue to mess up," Cahill said at the selectmen's meeting last Tuesday.

Selectman Joe DiRocco, an original member of the Dracut Skateboard Association that organized construction of the park on Pleasant Street across from the Central Fire Station in 2006 using private donations, said options to be considered include possibly returning to hiring adult gate monitors, lowering the age limit, or closing the park entirely.

"A lot of people donated a lot of time and money, and it was abused to no end at the beginning; it was pretty awful," said DiRocco, referring to the park's troubled history that has caused periodic temporary closures. "I may have dropped the ball a bit because we had talked about (installing) cameras for a bit. Whether that was an answer, I don't know."

As part of the skate-park discussion, Selectmen Chairwoman Cathy Richardson expressed her disappointment over a photo Cahill had forwarded to the board, showing trash strewn on the skate park's grounds, ramps and benches during the few days it was open in May.

"What I am seeing here is the kids are not respecting the park," said Richardson.

The sign at Dracut’s skateboard park tells the story. Sun /John CollinsSun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
The sign at Dracut's skateboard park tells the story. Sun /John Collins

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
"The town gave the youth of our town a $200,000 gift that has been abused, and that has a lot of people concerned."

Selectman Tony Archinski commented that in attending his son's youth league baseball games at Hadley Field in Lowell, he witnessed no such abusive behavior at the skate park at the site, which is not fenced in.

"Each time I've been there (at Hadley Field) there hasn't been this type of problem. You can hear a pin drop other than the sound of skateboards on the ramps. Is it the fence? Maybe we need to take the fence down,' said Archinski, who voiced his opposition to closing the Dracut skate park permanently.

"We have a $200,000 investment in that park, so I'm not quite ready to close the doors."

Cahill and Richardson invited a group of teens in the audience, ranging from ages 16 to 19, who said they have used the skate park frequently and respectfully in the past, to address the board about what should be done about the problems plaguing the facility.

Alex Kokoliadis, 17, suggested asking the Dracut Police Department to drive by and monitor activity at the park "two or three times a day," once it is reopened.

Kokoliadis and his friends in the group pledged to the board to do what they could to influence their peers to engage in more respectful behavior at the skate park, but said it would be difficult to convince older skaters to wear the safety helmets the town requires.

"Somehow I get the feeling we are not talking to the troublemakers here," said Archinski, addressing the teens. "Some way you have to relay to the other young people who use the park that you are in danger of losing a very nice resource."

Among the local civic organizations and private businesses who contributed time and money to the effort to have the park built eight years earlier were Lowell Five Bank, Dracut Charity Golf, Dracut Rotary Club, PJ Keating Co., Sunshine Paving Co., Brox Industries, Dracut Lions and Knights of Columbus Council 4225, among others.

In recent conversations with Leo Vezina, the owner of Lucky Oil and president of the former Dracut Skateboard Association, DiRocco and Vezina concurred that lowering the age limit for users may be a viable solution to the park's problems, according to Vezina. 

"All the kids that use the park are not that bad, but as we get up to the older group, the 19- and 20-year-olds, that's where the problem is," said Vezina. "That's really why we built the park in the first place to give the younger kids a place to play, where they would not be intimidated by the older kids."

Vezina said he is confident Cahill and Recreation Commission members and selectmen can come up with solutions to the park's problems that will keep the gate open for years to come.

"A lot of people donated a lot of money, time and products to this. I'll be there, and I will put a strong voice on trying every avenue to keep it open," said Vezina, who plans to attend the Recreation Commission's discussion of the skate park in August. "Some things have to change, but this is not the end of the park. The Recreation Committee and selectmen will put their heads together and come up with something to keep it open. I'm confident of that."

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