(Editor’s Note: This summer-long series on Lebanon County’s recreational parks last appeared on Lebanon Sports Buzz in 2017.)
BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – It’s really very simple. Just give them a smooth piece of macadam. a couple of on- and off-ramps and a shimmering stretch of black top.
For some, there’s no better way to get kids off the street.
It may be that the Lebanon Valley Family YMCA has got some things figured out. To keep kids healthy and happy, give them a place they can call their own, a place where they can to do what they like to do.
Of all the positive things the Lebanon Valley Family YMCA does for our community, its wildly popular skate park might be the most unique. It was designed – both figuratively and literally – to keep kids off Lebanon city streets.
“Predominantly, they’re local kids, within riding distance,” said Darin Pickles, the local Y’s director of operations of the skate park’s clientele. “But we get kids from all over central Pennsylvania. We have the longest ramps in central Pennsylvania. It gives them a place to ride, other than the streets, which makes our businesses happy.
“If we didn’t provide this facility, they’d ride the streets,” Pickles continued. “They look for rails, benches, sidewalks. They’re die-hard skaters and riders. They will do it somewhere. What we give them is a controlled environment.”
The skate park has been located just off north Eighth Street, west of the Lebanon Valley Family YMCA’s facility at 201 North Seventh Street, for the past eight years. But its origin dates back over a decade to an abandoned parking lot off of Lincoln Avenue, an informal skate park run by the city’s recreation department.
It just so happens that the skate-park season coincides with school’s summer, and warmer weather. The Y’s skate park operates from the third week of April to the third week of October.
“We’re providing two things,” said Pickles. “They’re not going to get harassed, and we’re giving them a design specifically for them. We refer to them as ‘riders’ because you’ve got four basic vehicles. ‘Skaters’ refer to skateboarders, but more popular are scooters and BMX bikes. They have their own cliques. Someone who rides a scooter wouldn’t be a ‘skater’.
“Scooters are easier to learn how to ride and they’re less expensive,” Pickles added. “A good BMX bike runs about $400-500. Skateboards are harder to ride than scooters. You can get a trick scooter for right around $100. There’s a lot of part trading going on there. It’s a lot of social networking.”
On any given good day, 50 riders, between the ages of six and 16, can visit the Lebanon Valley Family YMCA’s skate park, that factors out to about 5,000 over its five-month season. But given the popularity of the park, many of those numbers are populated by return visitors.
“A lot of kids come everyday,” said Pickles. “But it’s kind of a clique thing. For the majority of the kids, this is their sport. I’d say for 90 percent of the kids out there, this is their thing.
“If you watch these kids, they’re very athletic,” continued Pickles. “Some of them do amazing things. There’s a lot of energy expended, which is great. You don’t drive by parks and see kids playing pick-up football or pick-up baseball any more. It’s the evolution of things.”
So it would seem the key to getting kids involved with physical activity is simply providing them with something they like to do. If that activity occurs out-of-doors, so much the better.
“Physical activity is integral to their health and development,” said Pickles. “According to projections, 30 percent of Lebanon County is diabetic or pre-diabetic. Roughly, 80 percent of diabetes is preventable with diet and exercise. These kids are developing good exercise habits that can lead to other activities later in life.
“It’s absolutely positive,” added Pickles. “It’s positive for everyone. From the Y’s standpoint, to serve the community, it doesn’t cost kids a dime. They have to wear a helmet and have to have a parent-signed waiver. It gives them an outlet. The kids have a place to come. It’s great interaction. As an adult, I can go out there and the kids will listen to me. It’s a positive experience.”
Because the skate park is such a win-win-win situation, it’s difficult to identify any downside to it. If one does exist, it might be what it took to fund.
“There is a cost factor,” said Pickles. “You’re looking at six-figures plus. It’s something different. Is it a destination? For the riders, it can be.
“I think it does keep kids off the street,” Pickles continued. “That’s why it goes hand-in-hand with our youth center. We tried to work around the hours of the youth center. When the youth center closes, the skate park opens.”
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