Local skateboarders seek to create better park
BY DENNY SCOTT
North Huron Council received a presentation from local skateboarding business owner Connor Brooks regarding constructing a new skate park in Blyth, but deferred any action on the issue.
While council was thankful to Brooks for his presentation and information, council felt the idea of building a new skate park should be dealt with after the municipality finalizes a recreation master plan for infrastructure within the community. Council members did, however, encourage Brooks to continue to fundraise for the project and approach community service groups for support.
Brooks' presentation highlighted the need for a new skate park, saying the existing skate area, which is made of wood and metal, is not conducive or approachable for new skaters and is weathered and dangerous.
Brooks said the equipment, which includes wooden ramps built on metal frames, is stored outside every winter, which has resulted in degradation like “cracks in the surfaces” of the wood and “metal rusting away.”
He also said that, in past years, the skateboard community in Blyth has run into problems having the equipment set up in a timely fashion when skateboarding season starts. On the other end of the season, he says it’s taken down early.
Staff reported that the park is taken down due to the annual reunion of the Huron Pioneer Thresher and Hobby Association and, if staff feel the weather is conducive to skateboarding, it may be put back up for a time after.
Brooks also lamented the location of the equipment, which is on a concrete pad in the middle of the Blyth Campground when it is usable.
“It’s hard to get to and in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “Gusts of wind make it difficult to use. It seems to be a bit of a problem.”
Brooks said that, in comparing it to other communities like Clinton and Goderich, the facility is lacking. He said that when he and some other skateboarders started bringing their own, home-made ramps to the site it was better, but that practice had to be discontinued due to liability, which he understood.
To display the need for the park in the community, Brooks pointed to Culture Shock, his business, which hosted a stand as part of the weekly Blyth Outdoor Market. The booth, which was beside the Old Village Sud Shoppe car wash, brought out both skateboarders and scooter users to do tricks on small ramps set up in the space he said, showing there is an interest in having a space in Blyth for the extreme sports community.
“That in itself said something to the lack of recreational things for kids to do,” he said. “They were showing up every Thursday to do that.”
Brooks also had petitions to present to council during the meeting.
He said that a properly-built skate park, made out of concrete, would require little maintenance and provide a draw to the community, as well as preventing property damage that can be caused by skaters utilizing public spaces. He also said that such a site would be self-supervised, which is in line with other area skate parks.
Councillor Kevin Falconer asked how the skate park in Clinton, which is part of a community area including a splash pad and playground, came into being. Brooks said the project was spearheaded by someone who worked with council to make it happen.
Falconer then asked whether the municipality is responsible for the maintenance of the skate park equipment which Brooks had said was unsafe. Staff explained that the equipment, built in 2007 through a local fundraiser, was the responsibility of the municipality. North Huron Chief Administrative Officer Dwayne Evans said that, currently, there is one board splintered, but staff feel the rest of the equipment is safe.
Evans also reported that a small park of approximately 300 square feet made of concrete would cost a minimum of $135,000 while a larger “neighbourhood skate park” would cost $450,000 and cover approximately 10,000 square feet.
Brooks and the other youth that had attended the meeting felt those numbers weren’t accurate, pointing to other projects that saved money by utilizing existing landscape and including large stone and rock formations to help build the park.
Councillor Chris Palmer asked how many users the park currently had and was told that there is anywhere from 50 to 75 users.
Councillor Anita van Hittersum, picking up on Brooks’ comment about the remoteness of the park, asked if there was another site he would recommend. She suggested working with the Blyth Lions Club to locate it in the Blyth Lions Park.
Brooks said centralizing the park and working with service clubs would be great for the project.
Councillor Paul Heffer suggested that, alongside working with local community groups, Brooks should also look to opportunities like a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to make the project a reality.
Deputy-Reeve Trevor Seip said, however, that asking anyone to support a project like this during the pandemic, when fundraising opportunities are lean, may not be fruitful. He said he was fully supportive of the project, but wanted to wait until the completion of the recreation master plan.
“We just need more information, like finances, and a long-term strategy for recreation,” he said.
Reeve Bernie Bailey told Brooks the important takeaway here is that there isn’t a single council member saying no to the proposal, just saying more information is needed. He said council will keep the proposal in mind and encouraged Brooks to stay in touch with council, reach out to community groups and, when necessary speak to North Huron staff.
Council officially deferred the issue until after the master plan is finalized, with Seip directing staff to keep in touch with Brooks.
Later in the meeting, after Brooks and his party had left, Seip lauded the efforts and conviction of Brooks and his group.
“I was impressed by Connor,” he said. “It’s good to have youth come to the municipality, show initiative and tell us what they want in their municipality.”
He said the municipality does belong to the youth because, for the next 50 years, they are going to be the ones who use it.
“I’m so impressed with what they provided in an informational package,” he said. “I’m so impressed with that delegation. That’s the type of delegation I like to see come to this council.”
Seip said council may not have had the “right” answer to Brooks’ plans, but that it will always be willing to listen when youth come forward with ideas like that.