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Thursday, June 20, 2024

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Support Grows for Skate Park Lights

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By Bill Barlow

OCEAN CITY – City Council members welcomed a proposal to bring lights to the city’s skate park, at 550 Asbury Ave.
Resident Stephen Beseris made the request at the start of the council meeting March 12. He said he was not suggesting expanding the hours the park was open, but wanted the lights so that the park could remain in use for those hours throughout the year.
The park opened in 2015, at a cost of $750,000. Of that, $500,000 came from the county Open Space Fund, with the city covering the remaining $250,000.
The city had a skate park near the boardwalk years before, but this was a far more expensive and permanent concrete structure. Skaters say it includes elements that appeal to those at all levels of the sport.
Some Doubted
Before it opened, some neighbors had their doubts. Both members of council and Beseris said March 12 that the park has become an important part of the community. Beseris, a library media specialist in Ocean City School District, told council that the park has changed lives.
“Being in it quite a bit, I’ve seen the success of it for the kids and the teens and even the adults in our community. It’s been a great thing,” he said, thanking the city for investing in the park.
“I’ve seen a lot of individual success stories that are just amazing. Kids who’ve taken leadership roles because of that park and how it translates into their lives outside of skating,” he added.
He told council the time was right to consider bringing lights to the park.
“The interest is there. You can go by on the coldest, windiest, most dreadful day to be outside and there’s always a pack of core kids that are there during the day,” he said.
Winter Nights
But in winter, those from 18 to 30 years old who have full time jobs cannot get to the park before it’s closed for darkness. He suggested it is important for the city to offer activities for that age group throughout the year.
“Myself, I’ve been to two funerals in the past week, both overdoses. I was just thinking, man. I know skating isn’t the savior of everybody and everything, but if some of these people had something to do, especially in winter when it just gets cold and people get closed in… it just changes it up,” Beseris said.
There is a great deal of comradery among skaters, he said.
“As a community, we get so much right. I just think it would be one more thing we’re doing right,” he said.
Support Added
Councilman Michael DeVlieger, one of the proponents of building the park, supported adding lights.
In comments later at the meeting, he also praised skating’s impact.
“I’ve seen a lot of the benefit of the park on young kids, and on the parents and the adults that go,” he said.
At one point, he said at the meeting, a skater came up to him to thank him and the city for the park.
DeVlieger began to describe the speaker as “unusual,” but amended it to say that he “felt unusual,” and said he found a path in skating to become accepted among his peers.
“He really found his groove and became a leader,” DeVlieger said. He added that he often gets breakfast nearby and watches the skaters on Saturday mornings, saying he’s been impressed watching the skate park users grow.
He thinks lighting the park would be a good idea.
“I don’t know if anybody’s asking us to extend the hours at all. I think it’s just to keep the hours consistent by having lights in the winter, and I think there’s value in that. It’s just so well used when it’s open,” DeVlieger said.
Short History
Since the first week the park opened, those attending have been well behaved, he said.
The city briefly closed the park less than a week after opening it, citing safety concerns over riders who were not wearing helmets or other protective gear, and smoking at the site.
The original plan was to allow the skaters to police themselves, but instead, the park had a staff member on site after it reopened.
Since that time, DeVlieger said, the community has become convinced.
A Place to Go
“I’ve had neighbors who were totally against it come up and say how great a contribution the park has been,” he said.
Councilwoman Karen Bergman also supported the idea, said it’s good to have somewhere for young people to go in the early evenings.
Councilman Keith Hartzell said he lives near the park and passes it often.
“I’m just overwhelmed with the participation there, and I think a lot of people who were initially against it are for it,” he said. “What we’ve done here in this town for kids is unprecedented.”
There was some reluctance to support putting lights at the park, he said, but now the neighbors have been convinced. He added that he believes the park users should be rewarded.
To contact Bill Barlow, email bbarlow@cmcherald.com.

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