I was looking for something and I found something else.
Has that ever happened to you? You’re looking for one thing, you’re focused on it, it’s driving you crazy that you can’t remember where it is. Then, all of a sudden, you stumble upon something that stops you in your tracks. You look at this new thing you’ve found that you forgot even existed. You examine it, this thing that moments ago was the furthest thing from your mind.
In my case, I was looking for a book. John Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent, to be exact. I looked on the bookshelf in my den, in the closet in my den. I looked on the bookshelf that is on my back porch. I looked in a file cabinet and a couple of boxes on the back porch that are filled with all manner of paraphernalia. Nothing.
Then I looked in the little cubby hole in the upstairs bathroom where I keep a lot of reading material. (It’s a guy thing.) It is there that I found what I wasn’t looking for. Black and white and yellowed around the edges. The May 28, 1998 edition of The Dracut Dispatch, (a precursor to this publication.) Almost nine years to the day that this column will run.
There, on Page 1, a photo of a young teen in mid-air on his skateboard in front of Abbie’s, an abandoned gas station on Lakeview Ave. I took the picture and I wrote the story. The headline: “Teens Seek Spots To Cultivate Their Sport.” The jump headline on Page 9 read, “Teens on Wheels Want Place To Roll.”
The story bemoaned the fact that these nomads on skateboards, in-line skates and BMX bikes had no place to hone their skills and had to resort to school yards, bank parking lots and any other facility with a stone wall or a metal railing.
There was nowhere for them to go. Police were sympathetic, but couldn’t allow them to ollie, grind and kick-flip in public parking lots or municipal buildings. There were liability factors. Besides, the boards and blades were doing a number on the walls and railings around town. It was a problem that was only going to grow worse. These disenfranchised youths were getting pushed all around town. They moved over the Veterans’ Memorial Park and were starting to destroy the monuments.
Selectman James O’Loughlin asked for help from the businesses that were being directly affected by the kids.
He talked about a public-private partnership that would bring some kind of indoor park to Dracut, similar to the ones that existed in Boston and Burlington. He wanted young people to get involved. He wanted parents to get involved.
One parent, Janice Pokorski, tried to get the ball rolling and organized a fundraiser. Four young bands showed up at the old Civic Club on Broadway Road one Sunday nine years ago and performed such teeth-rattling music that my ears started bleeding. They raised a few hundred bucks. Despite her best intentions, the project died on the vine.
I thought about Janice as I read the story and I thought about what has transpired in the years that followed. The cause was again taken up in 2005 when Dracut businessmen Leo Vezina and Ronnie Breault, formed a committee and came up with a plan.
They got kids involved. They set up ramps in the supermarket parking lot and demonstrated their moves. The supermarket put out free hot dogs and soda. It was a nice collaboration. The group raised money, and they kept raising money. Upward of $75,000. The 6,400-square-foot park was built in the corner of Monahan Field across the street from the Central Fire Station. There was a celebration and a grand opening on Aug. 4, 2006.
Everything was fine, for about a day. Then trouble came in bunches. Vandalism, drug use, alcohol. Girls’ softball teams were verbally harassed as they made their way to their fields. There were fights. In just a little more than three weeks, the police were called to the skatepark more than 30 times.
On Oct. 4, 2006, two months to the day after it was opened, it closed. A 10-foot chain-link fence went up around the park and a heavy-duty padlock hung from the gate.
Over the winter, organizers came up with a new plan. People, mostly parents, already are complaining about the $75 yearly registration fee. Yup. Kids will have to register at the Recreation Department. They’ll be given some kind of ID and they’ll have to show it at the gate, which will be monitored by college-aged kids. The fees will pay for monitors and for any maintenance that is necessary.
If you have a cousin coming in from say, Kansas or Canada or Methuen and they want to skate, they can get a day pass for $10 or a weekend pass for $15. The park will close at sundown. After that, you can expect to find your kid at the school yard, the bank parking lot or any other facility with a stone wall and a railing.
Dennis Shaughnessey’s e-mail address is email@example.com.