BELFAST, Maine — Fourteen years ago, the Belfast skateboard community finally found a home when the Eric R. Overlock Skatepark was constructed in a corner of the Washington Street parking lot.
The money for the skatepark, then considered state-of-the-art, came from a donation from credit card giant MBNA, and for years, local youth and others gathered to do tricks on the steep wooden walls of its halfpipe, one of just a handful in Maine. But time, weather and a lack of upkeep have taken a toll on the park, which was named after a talented 17-year-old Belfast skater who died in 1999 after suffering an allergic reaction to peanuts.
Now, a small group of local skaters, including some who knew Overlock, is trying to raise money to repair the weather-worn park.
“My feeling is that it’s a necessity,” said Jesse Witherell of Belfast, a carpenter who skated with Overlock in the 1990s. “We’ve had a lot of letters from kids who grew up going to the skatepark, talking about how it helped them further their lives. A lot of kids don’t have other places to be. We’ve had a lot of really good, positive feedback.”
Witherell’s online fundraising campaign has so far netted $1,210 of a $6,000 goal. While he said that the early support has been great, he and others are planning to inspect the skatepark as soon as the snow is gone to see exactly what it will take to make the park safe and usable this summer.
Norm Poirier, head of the city’s parks and recreation department, said Wednesday that when he was hired last spring, one of the first questions he had to answer was whether the skatepark could be opened for the summer season.
“Upon inspection, it did show its age,” he said, adding that city staff removed a wooden halfpipe element that was deemed unsafe. “There are a lot of pieces or components that need some attention. It was obvious to me that no plan was in place. It was not even on the parks and rec radar.”
Poirier said that for this summer, the city will do all it can to make Overlock usable. It’s a well-used park, he said, with between a dozen and 40 people using it every day. The people who go there are often not interested by more traditional sporting activities, and for them, skateboarding is their chosen recreation.
“We need to look at this both as a short-term and a long-term process. How can we make it safe and open it up this summer?” he asked. “We’ll evaluate it. We’ll take some of the ramps off and see how badly the supports are either rotting or not. And we’ll make a determination — can we afford to do this? Do we want to do this? Is it a good investment of the monies that have been raised thus far?”
He said that the city eventually will need to figure out if it can fund a new skatepark, and if it will move the park from the parking lot.
“I think it would be better served if it was in an open area that was more like a park,” Poirier said. “Putting it in a more open area will really serve not only the users but also the community well.”
Witherell said he doubts they’ll be able to find a different location to place the park.
“It isn’t the best spot, but it is ours,” he said. “What I propose is that we try to keep it working until we can come up with enough money that it can be permanent.”
For information or to donate, visit gofundme.com/6xqag4.