ROCKLAND, Maine ― As a skateboarder, North Haven resident PJ Mara, 31, knows firsthand the benefits that having a quality skatepark in a community can bring to kids and others who love skateboarding, BMX riding, rollerblading or even scootering.
“I just know how important it is for kids in a community to have the opportunity to go to a space, like a skatepark, and express themselves creatively and athletically,” Mara said.
That’s why he wants to build a new and improved Rockland skatepark, replacing the nearly 20-year-old one torn down in late 2020. While there’s still much to do to bring this dream into a reality ― like securing a location for the park and raising funds for its construction ― Mara is hopeful this recent momentum and interest will help push the project forward.
Strides are being made to increase the awareness of this project in recent weeks, with the launch of a new petition in favor of a rebuild and the first in what will be a series of weekly Zoom meetings to get more people involved in the effort.
“I’m so excited. I think the time is right and the awareness is there now. It’s growing. It felt like I was trying to hold up the weight of the skatepark on my shoulders for a couple years but that was all worth it and I think the future is bright,” Mara said.
The old Rockland skatepark was built in 2002 after four years of planning and fundraising by local students and community groups. It’s unclear exactly how much the total park cost, but a former local company, MBNA, donated $200,000 for construction of the skatepark, according to Bangor Daily News archives.
The skatepark was located at the local high school, on a piece of property that the city leased from the school district. During the first decade or so of its lifespan the wooden park was well-used and one of the most popular recreation sites in Rockland.
But the wooden structure began to rot and deteriorate over time. The city wasn’t able to keep up on the maintenance it required and didn’t have the funds to make the needed repairs, according to Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell. In 2013, a portion of the park was demolished. Some improvements were made to the remainder of the park in 2016, but ultimately the entire park was torn down in late 2020.
“Slowly but surely it just kept getting worse and deteriorating until we had to basically take it down for the safety of kids and users of the park,” said Ryan Duplisea, who was a Rockland High School student involved in getting the original park established.
Design concepts for a new concrete park were drafted in 2019, but as the wooden park was demolished and the school district canceled the city’s lease for the site, local skatepark advocates like Mara have shifted focus to getting a new park built at a yet-to-be determined location in the city.
The site of the old skatepark isn’t an option. The school district plans to use it for portable classrooms next year, according to Luttrell. Although that was good proximity to teens who used the park, Mara is hopeful the new park will be located on property that is more clearly open to the entire community.
Last year, Mara and a local teacher tried to get Oceanside High School students to participate in an afterschool program to come up with a redesign concept. But no students signed up for the Zoom planning sessions. Mara is hopeful that more students will get involved with this renewed effort to build a park somewhere else in Rockland.
“Their peers and future high schoolers will most likely use it the most so it’s important for them to be a part of that legacy,” Mara said.
By building a concrete park, supporters say the new skatepark could avoid the fate of its predecessor. Concrete parks are more durable and require less maintenance than wooden parks. Mara said it would likely cost between $200,000 and $300,000.
While there are smaller wooden skateparks in Camden and Thomaston, Mara said the nearest concrete parks ― which are more enjoyable for users ― are located in Augusta, Lewiston and Portland.
“I think it would bring people in from all across the midcoast to come check it out and that would bring business into Rockland and who knows what kind of ripple effects that could have on the community,” Mara said.
Weekly Zoom meetings, which began this week, are the first step in formalizing the effort to bring a new park to Rockland. Mara said these meetings will help come up with location ideas, as well as ideas for fundraising.
Rockland City Councilor Sarah Austin, who got involved with the skatepark while she was on the city’s parks and recreation committee, said this will offer local kids ― and adults alike ― more options when it comes to recreation.
“Skateparks are an incredible resource for the community in terms of outdoor recreation,” Austin said. “We have a ton of different things for what might be considered more traditional sports, like we have a lot of baseball fields, soccer fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, but there really isn’t a high quality skate park in the region.”
If the skatepark is established on public land, the city would be responsible for insuring it, as it did the last park. Though it’s unclear if there is a cost difference in insuring a concrete park versus a wooden one.
While it was hard to watch the park he helped create fall into a state of disrepair, Duplisea said he’s glad that there’s renewed interest in bringing a skatepark back to the city.
“It feels good. We should have never let it get to the point it was but it’s nice to know that there are people still out there that want to see this happen and it really should,” Duplisea said.