More than 2,000 people have signed an online petition to save the town skate park at Stotzky Memorial Park, an effort started by a 15-year-old Riverhead teen.
The skate park has been undergoing renovations for more than a year. But town officials announced last month that instead of fully repairing the bottom half of the park, it would use that space to create a pickleball court. Pickleball, a hybrid of tennis, is a sport targeted mostly at senior citizens.
That decision has encountered sharp criticism from residents who are eager to see recreational opportunities for youths expanded, not reduced.
“Riverhead’s skate park is a home for me and all my friends,” said petition organizer Kyle Schwartz. “It’s where we can ride unbothered and have a good time while learning new tricks and making memories.”
The petition, “Save the whole Riverhead skatepark,” went live Aug. 7 on ipetitions.com. More than 900 people also left comments in favor of saving the entire park. Kyle said he could have never gotten so much attention for the effort without the help of friends like Aidan Moran of Riverhead and John and Ryan Caltabiano from East Setauket, who brought the petition to the attention of several professional scooter riders and related businesses.
Most important, the petition gained enough traction to catch the attention of Ray Coyne, superintendent of Riverhead’s recreation department.
Mr. Coyne met with Kyle and two of his friends Tuesday afternoon at the skate park.
“The meeting was pretty good,” Kyle said afterward. “Starting the petition and sending it into the recreation department made Mr. Coyne take us more seriously.”
He and his friends walked around the park with Mr. Coyne and town engineer Drew Dillingham and pointed out specific ramps that they felt were important to keep in the park. Mr. Coyne said after the meeting that he wanted to be able to hear what the boys had to say and will do his best to accommodate them.
“I’m not here to be the person to shut down the skate park,” Mr. Coyne told the News-Review last week. “If we had the money, I would build them a bigger skate park. We just don’t have it.”
The issue came to light during a July 28 Town Board work session, at which Mr. Coyne announced that finishing the skate park would cost more than anticipated.
He has since said using a portion of the bottom half of the skate park as a pickleball court would not cost the town anything because they already have all the materials needed to put it together. He said this decision was made in order to stretch out the town’s budget while satisfying more people.
“The money that I took away from the skate park went to different parks,” Mr. Coyne told the News-Review. He said some of these spots include the Horton Avenue basketball court, the hockey rink, and a new playground at Veterans Memorial Park. He added that many people who use the skate park are not Riverhead residents.
Kyle, who lives in Cutchogue, is among them.
“There isn’t too much to do around here and I’ve latched on to this hobby,” he said. “Now the town is telling us they are going to take away a large part of our favorite park, although we’ve waited over a year for the reopening.”
Kyle said that although the skate park is located about 30 minutes away from his house, it’s one of his favorite places to go. The only other skate park in the area is in Greenport, he noted.
Kyle also pointed out that pickleball can be played in many other locations, but with the lack of room in the skate park it will force kids and teens to ride in the streets.
Mr. Coyne said there will still be plenty of space for kids to skate.
“They’re really not losing much,” he said, and the town was able to repair some of the bottom boards, which will remain. He added that the boards are also rotated so the kids have a whole new course, as they requested.
He said the boards that are not repaired will be saved and stored and that if the town allocates additional funding in the future it can make the decision to reinstall those pieces or expand the park.
Kyle’s father, Mark Schwartz, said that although the skate park size is still likely to be reduced, he thinks his son will gain something from this experience. He said Kyle did this completely on his own and the family had no idea what the response would be.
“I’m proud of what he’s doing,” Mr. Schwartz said. “His efforts to do this and all of the excitement he got about getting all of these responses back was really cool. It’s all from his heart.”
Photo: From left, Jack Kitz, Dominick Skrezec and Kyle Schwartz outside the skate park after their meeting Tuesday with Ray Coyne, Riverhead’s superintendent of parks. (Credit: Krysten Massa, August 2016)