HOLDEN, Mass. — The community got its first glimpse at what a future skatepark might mean for Holden's young skaters on Friday, as novice boarders and semi-pros alike came together at Dawson Recreation Area for the town's first Skate Jam fundraising event.
"It's a reflection of what the community can become, because you have older, younger, beginner, experienced — all learning from each other and teaching each other and having healthy fun," said Valerie Taylor, a member of Holden's skateboard park committee
Moreover, Taylor pointed out that the aspect of community in skateboarding is part of what makes it unique amongst other sports.
"What I think is neat is that it's an individual thing, but it's social," said Taylor. "What other sports are kind of like that, where you do your move, you try it, and then you get back in the line and talk with the other kids, and maybe they're from another town, or another part of Holden, or younger kids? If you're from Dawson, you might not know kids from Mayo, but skateboarding is your thing you're going to do together."
In fact, it was not far from this very spot that the old Holden skate park once stood, its selection of wooden ramps and rails providing a small sanctuary for Holden skaters like Jared Nylen and John Nicholson — who have since progressed to the point where they are now part of the Eastern Boarder team.
While Nicholson says he was never able to get into the more traditional sports, skateboarding offered him something he could be passionate about when he was younger.
"I used to walk right across the street from Dawson after school and go skate the park, and it was a really big deal for me to be able to do that, and for kids to be able to have something like that is huge to them." he said. "It's the equivalent of someone being able to have a basketball court, or anything like that."
Yet after the bigger Rultand Skate park drew away skaters, the park at Dawson was shut down. The Rutland park itself was later closed as well, suddenly leaving a void in the lives of many of Holden's young skaters.
"I remember shortly thereafter, when that park was done, there was nothing to do," said Nicholson. "It was like, what am I going to do in Holden besides get in trouble?"
Furthermore, while many the businesses around Main Street have natural architecture conducive to skateboarding tricks, skaters often find that skating these spots raise the ire of business owners and the attention of police.
"The more that we don't have a place to go, the more they're going to have to deal with that kind of stuff," said Nylen, who used to skate from his house in Jefferson, and often take the bus all the way into Worcester just to skate the park there.
In a way, Nylen is actually a little bummed out that Holden could have a new skate park down the road, explaining "it's kind of like jealousy, because when I was younger we didn't have this cool concrete deal that they're getting. But I'm glad that the younger kids are going to get something we didn't get, and that they're not going to grow up the way we grew up."
Nylen says to have had a park like the one planned for Eagle Lake Park "would have made the world of a difference."
"We never would have got in trouble with the cops, we would have had a lot more time skating instead of travelling to Worcester and back," he continued. "It keeps kids out of a lot of trouble having an actual, awesome place to skate."
"When I just got into high school we actually built our do-it-yourself park up at the Rice School tennis courts, so we brought all sorts of obstacles — a lot of the same ones you see here," added Nicholson. "And it was really cool. But it's hard to maintain when you have no support from anyone but kids."
For more than two years, the skateboard park committee has been working hard to get the park project off the ground, getting a potential design together before the effort was nearly thwarted by lack of support and funding. Undaunted, the board has re-doubled their efforts and now hopes to accomplish the construction without money from the taxpayers.
The committee's fundraising goal is anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000, the difference between being a lower-end park and a bigger park.
"I'd love to see it built, but now it's just getting that momentum of what do we do for fundraising, what do we do to convince the entire community that this is an asset, because it really is," said Taylor.
Skateboarders came in droves to this Friday's Skate Jam, the committee's first big fundraising event, providing an answer to the long-considered question of "if they build it, would they come?"
Recreation director Denis Morano was thrilled with the turnout.
"I always knew the kids did have an interest, if you build it they will come, but the thing is getting it built now, and we need the support and enthusiasm that these kids are generating," she said.
While the director said the effort has sometimes felt like pushing a square boulder up a very steep hill, she said his event was encouraging, and added momentum.
"Hopefully it'll take off," she said.
"We needed to see this," added Taylor. "We needed to see that what we're doing, there is an interest in it - because during the winter time you don't have the feel. So now we have been energized."
Yet the success of the event was not only in the numbers, however, but the interaction between the kids.
"I don't know we're else you see this, where there's a seven-year-old watching a 20-plus-year-old skateboarder," said Taylor. "What's great about Eastern Boarder coming here, is they see these guys who know how to do moves, but they see them fall, too. They see these awesome skateboarders fall, and get right back up, and that's so valuable."
Residents interested in helping the project continue can attend the monthly meetings in the Selectman's room of the Starbard Building on Main St., by the Town Hall, or donate toward the effort by writing a check to Holden Skatepark, and sending it to the recreation department.
"This project is driven on fundraising," said Morano. "There's no town money that's going to be supporting it, so it's going to be about getting the kids out there and helping us, we need great big fundrasiing ideas, and we'd like to get some businesses involved."
Morano added, "we're looking for a lot of support from a lot of people — it's going to take the community to help us get this thing to come to fruition."