BRATTLEBORO — The vibe of the small crowd gathered on Oct. 3 was subdued - perhaps for many, an expression of dumbstruck disbelief that this day had actually arrived.
They came - masked and distanced, of course - to observe the dedication of the Perseverance Skatepark on this brilliant autumn Saturday morning, in a quick ceremony.
As the ceremony marked the opening of the long-awaited park, it also symbolized the end of a roundabout - and, for many, agonizing - journey of almost two decades that it took for the project to get there.
In opening remarks, Carol Lolatte, the head of the Recreation and Parks Department, called the park a “beautiful masterpiece.”
Lolatte pointed out that efforts by several ad hoc committees to build a skatepark in town go back at least 17 years, prior to the formation in 2010 of Brattleboro Area Skatepark Is Coming (BASIC), which eventually became an ad hoc town committee.
She has minutes on file from at least 150 meetings of BASIC. That number does not take into account participation of BASIC in meetings of other boards and committees over so many years - Selectboard, Recreation and Parks Board, and the Skatepark Site Selection Committee - as the project wound its way through at least four proposed sites and, at times, downright hostile opposition from prospective neighbors.
After all the years of curve balls, setbacks, lawsuits, site changes, and other delays, in the end, it took just four months to transform the site from a grassy field at the top of Living Memorial Park to a 5,000-square-foot skatepark.
Citing the “passion and perseverance that all of you, not just committee members today, but committee members of the past,” Lolatte thanked the more than 130 donors - individuals, companies, foundations, and a bit from the town - whose contributions over the years brought in the $350,000 to fund the construction.
She praised those who did the hard work under the hot summer sun: Stantec Design, Michael Parker and his crew of Parker Construction Inc., based in Hardwick, and DMI Paving and Excavation of Brattleboro, with Steve Horton, a construction consultant for the town and the town's Department of Public Works personnel.
Lolatte said that the Parker crew not only poured concrete in 90-degree heat for two weeks straight, but “they pitched their tent right here to make sure that we didn't have any additional art on the skatepark over the nighttime.”
“There might have been some evening artists that we would have been wanting to discourage,” she said dryly.
Other town employees and elected officials - Town Manager Peter Elwell, Recreation and Parks Board Chair Ricky Davidson, Selectboard Chair Tim Wessel, and Selectboard Vice Chair Elizabeth McLoughlin, who had served on the Skatepark Site Review Committee - also spoke.
'We're gonna persevere'
Spencer Crispe, a skateboarder since 1985 and a stalwart member of the BASIC board through the years, spoke with deep passion about the park name as a metaphor for “our odyssey of what we went through to get this.”
He said that the setbacks and delays over all those years almost stopped the effort cold.
“We just wanted to quit, but we did it,” Crispe said. “And we fought. And we kept going through all the obstacles they were putting in our way, trying to shut us down. And we said, 'No, we're sticking with it. We're gonna persevere, just like landing a skate trick. And we landed it - we got the park here for everyone to enjoy.“
“They didn't beat us - we got it,” he said triumphantly.
Crispe gave a special shout-out to a BASIC stalwart, Barry Lane, who “had to endure so much adversity in leading us to where we are today.” He called Lane “the spark that lit the fire to get this skatepark.”
And he credited Scott Dixon for “keeping the local skate scene alive.”
“We didn't have a park, so Scottie essentially bulldozed his house and made one for people to be able to skate and invited anyone and everyone who wanted to skate,“ Crispe said.
Crispe handed the mic to BASIC veteran Jeff Clark, who called up the group's members, past and present, to stand on the pristine structure and get a round of applause for their work.
And with that, BASIC Secretary Melissa Clark and committee member Francine Vallario stretched a red ribbon across the deck. Crispe, wielding ceremonial gigantic scissors, took a snip at the ribbon. And then, with the crowd cheering, Matthew Rink, another committee member, rolled through, snapping the fabric in two.
With that, the dedication ended, and music began playing.
Deep bass beats pulsed as a few young skaters casually started doing their slides and ollies in the concrete bowl, with others looking on from the edge as they awaited their turns.
They came to skate, and they now had a place to do so - a simple goal that was so elusive for so many years for so many who had worked so hard to make it happen.