Push to finish Pittsfield skate park unites freestylers young and older

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PITTSFIELD — A young BMX rider asked 17-year-old Jake Senger to demonstrate "a no-footer" at the Pittsfield skate park on Thursday, and Senger obliged.

Senger soared with his two wheels down one slope and up another, catching air and lifting his feet from the pedals as he did.

Senger, a Taconic High School student, said he comes to the park "whenever it's nice out."

"If you come here every day you learn everything," he said.

And the skills he's picked up there at the East Street park take him far outside of Pittsfield. Senger recently entered competitions in Florida and Texas.

He said those who come to the park regularly inevitably grow close.

"If you need friends and want to be part of a family, the skate park is definitely not a bad one," he said.

Older generations of city skaters and BMX riders say their community is growing and it's time for the city to expand its East Street skate park. City officials heard their plea last month, committing $20,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds for designing the park's second phase.

Luke Kessler, owner of skate and apparel shop The Garden, said Pittsfield kids are driving to North Adams now to skate because the new park there is so much better. Half of the Pittsfield park is dead space and in the other half "people are on top of one another."

"They're just running out of space and features and they get bored," he said.

Jim McGrath, the city's parks and natural resource program manager, said the city will soon hire a professional skate park designer to develop schematics and construction designs. The original construction at the skate park was completed in 2011, McGrath said, and a second phase of construction was always part of the plan.

"It sort of rose to the top this year as there was some additional room in our Community Development Block Grant budget," he said.

He won't have a cost estimate until design work runs its course later this year, he said. It's feasible that the project could break ground next year, but he said it all depends on funding.

"It's a little too early to tell or to determine at this time what our strategy might be," he said. "But it's a lot easier to go after funding when you have a solid plan."

Councilor at Large Pete White, who took part in the CDBG review process, said a crowd of people came to a hearing last month to push for finishing the park.

The city has promised for more than eight years that it would finish the second phase, and now White said it's time.

"It's probably per square foot the most used park in our city," he said. "Every time you drive by it is full of people."

White said he himself got his first taste of City Council when he showed up to defend students' rights to skate back in the '90s. Now, skateboarding and BMXing are advancing to the Olympics.

He said he was proud to see the room so full during the CDBG hearing.

"It brought a tear to my eye to see that much enthusiasm," he said. "I give those BMXers and skaters a lot of credit for coming out."

With the addition of the North Adams park two years ago, skaters agree it's now "the best skate park in Berkshire County."

The $676,000 North Adams park project was funded largely through a $400,000 Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities grant, while the remainder came from the city's allotment of federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

At the time of that park's completion, former mayor Richard Alcombright said kids "drove the process."

"They bugged the heck out of me," he said. "They kept me motivated and directed."

Kessler said the park draws people from around the region. It has a strong mix of features, he said, allowing people with a range of abilities to enjoy the offerings.

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It's designed well, he said, so that the dips, curves and ledges flow well together.

He'd like to see a quarter pipe at the Pittsfield park, he said, some ledges and perhaps staging to place features at varying levels.

He said it's important that city officials hear from young people using the park as it moves forward.

"I want the input from the kids who are out in the community every day ," he said. "That's what's going to make it a success."

The city should show the community of skaters and BMXers that this is "not going to be another thing that's pushed off," he said. He said it's too important to those who use it.

"The best thing about it is for them, it's free," he said. "It's a place where they can get together with their friends and stay out of trouble."

'Great outlet'

Jake Seeley, 30, originally of Williamstown, said he's been a pro-BMXer for about 12 years. As his career has grown, he said he's worked to use it to help build up the BMX scene in Pittsfield through competitions and events.

Now, he said "there's a whole new wave of kids here." He said the sport is huge in Pittsfield.

"Not every kid is gonna be playing baseball, basketball," he said. BMX "is a great outlet for a kid who's looking for something different."

The sport is both athletic and creative, he said — it's for the kids who want to be active but don't like being told what to do and when to do it.

"Give 'em a bike, board or a scooter and let 'em be free," he said.

Without a park that satiates their appetite, he said kids will take to the streets to ride.

"It always will happen," he said, but with a better park "it will happen less."

"We need that home base," he said. "That spot where we can just practice our passion."

And that's exactly what a dozen skaters and bikers were doing at the skate park on Thursday afternoon.

Skateboarder Jason Lesure, 34, was there teaching his 9-year-old son, Nathaniel, some tricks.

Lesure said it would be nice to have a covered area at the park to protect skaters from the elements. And most of the angles at the park are pretty steep, he said, making it challenging for beginners.

Lucas Zwingelstein, 19, said he's been coming to skate at the park since before it was formally constructed. He said he also regularly rides in the street, as "it's kinda boring after a while."

"A lot of people stop riding bikes because they get sick of the skate park," he said.

Skateboarding is addictive, said Blake Casella, 15, and without it "some kids would probably be doing worse."

Bill Whittaker, founder of The Garden, remembers a time when there was nowhere for kids to skate and ride their bikes in Pittsfield. He remembers the issues it created. "A lot of kids were just on their bikes all over the place," he said. "They were going to be somewhere, so they needed a place to go."

He said the skate and BMX community has again outgrown its space and the city should ramp up its efforts.

"What's down there is very limited," Whittaker said. He said the park should have more features, a shade structure and a drinking water fountain.

"Pittsfield being the hub of the Berkshires, I feel like it should be one of the better ones in the county," he said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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