By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Montclair’s future could hold a skate park.
After three previous attempts, a movement to get a dedicated place for the skaters, who claim they are harassed out parks and off streets, is now catching momentum.
A petition backing a skate park has garnered 3,150 signatures, an October free skate session drew over 200 attendees ages 5 to 70, and about 30 skate proponents spoke at a recent council meeting.
“It doesn’t work when we have to share a basketball court or police are called when we are on the tennis courts. We need a safe and permanent space where we won’t be harassed,” said Montclair High School junior Antonello Terrana, president of the school’s Skate Club. After he started the club last year, Terrana says the club now boasts 30 members.
The group pointed to recently-posted signs at Rand Park that read “no skating,” which some say send a message of hostility toward the skaters.
“They are not skate punks, they are not derelicts like they feel when the police are called or they are harassed,” said Jamie Siwinski, the skate club’s adviser.
He described an energy of camaraderie, empathy and joy that is felt at a skate park.
Carla King said skateboarding offers children another option to get outside. She cited cost, time commitment and competitiveness as deterrents to some when it comes to traditional sports.
“The skate club can’t be solely responsible for meeting the needs of the skateboarders,” she said.
Devon started skateboarding last year after seeing the movie “Skate Kitchen,” which focuses on skateboarder girls in New York City. She contends that if Montclair built a skate park, it could break barriers for female skateboarders by creating a non-intimidating environment where they would not feel judged.
Terrana said the high school continues to be welcoming and open to the club using school property to skateboard, but that it’s time for a dedicated park. At the Oct. 26 free skate, skateboarders attempted quarter pipes, launch ramps, ledges and flat bars that temporarily filled the parking lot. The group wants that permanently.
“Skaters haven’t gone away. It’s not a fad. We have only grown in numbers,” Siwinski said about prior attempts to get a skate park in Montclair, which go back to 2002.
Councilwoman Renée Baskerville said that a meeting with the deputy township manager and the director of the Parks and Recreation department resulted in an offer for skaters to use the parking lot at the George Inness Annex as a temporary space.
But Siwinski said the spot is unsafe and not ideal.
“It has not been paved in some time and there’s cracks and gravel. The teachers park there up until 5 p.m. and the trailers are still there,” he said.
Councilman Bob Russo, who was mayor during the first skate park attempt, said there were noise and safety issues at the time. He said recent efforts are more organized and that “we just got to get the right spot.”
Another hurdle for the group is the perception of a skate park as a wooden eyesore that takes away green space.
But skate art parks are cropping up across the country, such as one that opened last year in Detroit. The privately-funded park and art installation was designed by skateboarder Tony Hawk and artist Ryan McGinness. The space is used by both skaters and non-skaters depending on the time of day.
One woman told the council of a recent trip with her children to East Orange’s skate park, which opened in August. She said a police officer there told her they were happy with the town’s decision to create a dedicated space for skateboarders as they were tired of asking skateboarders to move along.