Skaters Turned Activists: Poughkeepsie Residents Joining to “Save the Waryas Skate Park”
Nick Colon is 19, grew up here in the city of Poughkeepsie, employs two other Poughkeepsie residents at his landscaping business, and skateboards nearly any time he is not working.
When I recently met him, though, he was walking on his two feet.
He had been walking all morning with a clipboard and pen in hand — just as dozens of other local skateboarders, I would later find out, had been doing for three weeks — seeking and talking to every last person he could find about the petition for the city to reopen the Waryas skate park that had been shut down since early July of this year.
“The skate park was the only place to go,” he told me. Like numerous other kids and adults in Poughkeepsie, he had been spending entire mornings, afternoons, and evenings for years in the skate park, where camaraderie and community with strangers, and fellow skaters, had formed.
Describing where he grew up, he said, “This city has a lot of shooting, a lot of violence, and the park was a safe haven — a place to get away for us, and just relax. And skate.”
It just so happened that the morning Nick approached me with his clipboard, I was relaxing on a set of bleachers facing the stage where speakers and events would take place for the 2nd Annual “Stop the Violence” March and rally, later that evening. Some fellow Stop the Violence event volunteers and organizers listened in as Nick told me about the petition, and why it was so important to him that the city reopen the skate park.
Jon Barto, 20, a fellow Stop the Violence volunteer whom I had just met moments ago while sitting on the bleachers, came over — with his own skateboard underarm — to introduce himself to Nick. Jon told Nick he agreed with the petition, and while signing his name on it, told him, “That’s one of the things that kept me outta trouble.”
Up until it was recently closed, Jon had been going to the Waryas skate park for 2–3 years, nearly everyday. Jon was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, where, “It’s easy to fall in to the bad crowd…” Although it had been less than a month since the city shut down the Waryas skate park, he had a sense of indignation in his words and voice — that the city could take away something that had been so good for its youth: “Skating keeps us occupied. Off the streets. And on the board…”
Before Nick went off to find other pedestrians nearby to educate them about Waryas skate park and sign the petition, Jon offered to take some blank petitions to distribute at the Stop the Violence event, which would start in a few hours. “I know some people there who will be down with this cause, too.”
The Shut Down
“On the day after 4th of July,” Nick told me, skaters showed up at the park as they had always done, but found that it was locked up. “Poughkeepsie shut down the park because it was ‘unsafe’,” he said.
As published in an article in the Poughkeepsie Journal (“Poughkeepsie skate park closed or safety concerns”, 7/6/16), officials from the Poughkeepsie Public Works Department found that there were large holes in the surfaces of the skating ramps, and according to the department’s commissioner Chris Gent, “It looked bad enough for us to close it down.”
This explanation fell short in the eyes of Nick.
“They could’ve got the word out to the city,” explaining that the numerous regulars at the skate park had a fondness for the place, and would have pitched in to help fix or maintain the park. It was like home to so many of them, and like a family of inhabitants, they would have done whatever needed to be done to keep it open. “But instead,” he continued, “they shut down the whole thing altogether.”
Waryas Skate Park Origins
Nick was not there from the beginning, but like a member of any communal beloved space, had become familiar of its basic origins story.
“A guy named Winston,” he thinks, “started it 10 years ago” after petitioning the city for a public place for community members to skate. “It took 3 years to build,” and pretty soon “there was [sic] kids riding their scooters…especially since it’s on the waterfront,” and, as opposed to riding in the streets or jagged sidewalks, “it was in a safe area.”
He remembers that until a few years ago, the park previously had regular maintenance and personnel who were paid by the city to oversee the space, and the safety of skaters. However, eventually, “The city didn’t want to pay them,” the regular maintenance stopped, and the city’s policy turned into “Skate at your own risk.”
Skaters Turned Activists, Outside the Gates of Waryas Skate Park
As Nick remembers it, soon after the gates to the Waryas skate park were locked up, the skaters got down to business.
“A lot of people were outraged,” he said, “[so] on July 6th [the day after the closing], a bunch of people got together” by the skate park to discuss what they could do about it.
A Facebook page was created. “There was a lot of communication through Facebook,” and they decided to meet face-to-face on a weekly basis as well, “every Monday at 7pm, in front of the skate park.”
Pretty soon, a petition was created, copies were printed at people’s homes and workplaces, and by the day I met Nick in late July, there were “about 25 people dedicated every day,” to coming to Victor C. Waryas park, pacing along the waterfront to collect signatures for the petition, and educating the public.
Moreover, the petitions were only a means to the end. “We’ve been going to city council, town hall,” Nick described. “And there’s like 500 people on the [“Save the Poughkeepsie Skate Park”] Facebook page now,” he proudly stated.
A Poughkeepsie Call for Solidarity
As I chatted with Nick and followed him as he walked along the Victor C. Waryas Park waterfront footpath collecting more signatures, we ran into Thomas Lamoree, 42 — or “Monsta,” as he prefers to be known by friends and acquaintances — also a member of the “Save the Waryas Skate Park” group, who was collecting signatures that morning as well.
In between soliciting pedestrians, Monsta shared with me his take, which considered the larger picture of the city’s finances and priorities:
Since the time the city shut down the skate park, up through the ensuing reaction from the skate community, city officials have described estimates for repairing the park to be $18,250, and estimates for more complete replacement of the skate park’s structures to be $37,300, according to an article published on MidHudsonNews.com (“Poughkeepsie officials get earful on sudden closure of skateboard park”, 7/12/16).
With this context, Monsta pointed out to me incredulously, “The city’s spending $247 million on a new jail — and I think that’s ballooned to 290 million, or something — and they can’t spend the money for fixing the park, to keep people out of jail?”
So far, members of the group have not yet heard concrete plans nor commitments from city officials.
But members are determined to see that that changes soon, and that their voices are heard.
The group has organized a public event — aptly named “Make Poughkeepsie Skate Again” — to rally support today, August 6th, from 12pm-5:30pm, at the skate park (53 N. Water Street, located at the north end of Victor C. Waryas Park) which will be temporarily opened for the first time since it was closed down last month. According to the Facebook event page, the event has been endorsed by city Councilpersons Mike Young and Matthew McNarmara, and will feature music, raffle prizes, open skating, and of course, gathering signatures for their petition.
For Nick Colon’s part, he continues to urge fellow Poughkeepsie residents to join their cause, not only to add their names to the petition, but to “go to the city council and make a statement that the park needs to be rebuilt.”
In the meantime, he says, “The children of Poughkeepsie have nowhere to skate anymore, and it’s leading to a lot of people getting ticketed now skating in the street.”
Abraham L. Young grew up playing basketball in a city park. He currently lives and writes in Poughkeepsie, NY.
For any questions, comments, or requests to republish this piece, he can be contacted at Abraham.L.Young@gmail.com.