BELDING — Finding a healthy, fun and inexpensive activity to do on a regular basis as a teenager in the summer months in Belding isn’t always an easy task.
For Belding High School senior Gavin Bennett, 16, that task typically involves gathering his friends, packing into his small car with the trunk cracked open to fit everyone’s bikes, scooters and skateboards, and making a trip to Saranac or Ionia to enjoy a day of tricks and flips at a skate park.
But Bennett and his friends are hoping that come this time next year, they’ll have a park to call their own, possibly having kids from Lakeview, Greenville, Edmore, and other communities, packing into their own cars and making trips to Belding to enjoy a day near the river spent at a skate park in Central Riverside Park.
“We just want something more so we don’t have to travel so far to a different skate park,” said Bennett after doing tricks with his friends at a small concrete area at Central Riverside Park. “To really enjoy ourselves, we typically have to go to Saranac, which we do on a regular basis because we have to.”
Bennett is part of a handful of kids in Belding who have become directly involved in a strong effort to bring a skate park to Belding, and sits on the official Skateboard Committee in Belding.
Board member Roger Wills said the committee is made up of five adults and two students and added it was crucial to have members of the youth sitting on the committee.
“They’ve been to quite a few meetings and we are always calling on them and trying to bring them in for ideas because none of us (adults) are going to be the ones skating on it.” Wills said.
What began as a small campaign has grown to see $46,000 worth of pledges from area businesses toward a skate park, and committee member Keven Krieger said with $14,000 more, the first phase of the skate park could begin construction.
“The reason is pretty unanimous throughout the group as to why we want to build this park,” Krieger said. “We want something for the youth of the town, and looking at $14,000 to be able to start pouring concrete, this is now a very real possibility.”
Krieger said despite what many may think about the skateboard community in general, with kids getting into trouble skating on private property and public landmarks, he believes a public skate park would create a place for kids to skate knowing they can do so without the fear of getting into trouble.
“There’s a large part of our population that is family based with kids here in Belding, but there’s not a lot for kids outside of organized sports to do,” he said. “This has been an ongoing idea for as long as I can remember, since I was in high school. It’s a healthy activity and a good way to focus young people’s talents. A lot of people think skateboarders are part of a rough group of kids, but there’s actually a great sense of community in that group and there’s a lot of passion from these kids.”
Krieger and Wills said a lot of people have criticized the committee’s goal to raise $100,000 for the park, citing the amount to be too large for a skate park, but both committee members say with the money coming from area sponsors and fundraising, there is no need to worry about the final dollar amount.
“We can start building as soon as we hit $60,000,” Wills said. “And once people see how beautiful this skate park will be, more businesses will want to contribute to help it grow, I can guarantee that.”
Wills said the committee has chosen to go with concrete designs by Who Skates Skatepark Design and Construction out of Kennebunkport, Maine, instead of a more metallic park, to fit in more aesthetically with other surrounding structures in Belding, and praised other parks by that design for their durability and overall beauty.
“The nearest concrete park from Belding is in Charlotte and we currently have kids who are traveling that far just to skate a concrete park,” Wills said. “I feel like it’s just something that is right for the community. Not just for the kids, but for parents and surrounding businesses. I think this can help Bring Belding back to a better light.”
Krieger said the ultimate goal is to have the skate park built in Central Riverside Park by spring of 2013, with space left to build for a phase two if and when additional funds are collected.
The park is expected to replace a portion of the current roller rink, which according to Krieger, is largely unused by the community and is in need of repair, though he said the committee wants to preserve a portion of it because there are still kids in town who use the rink.
“The biggest hurdle is trying to get some backing and belief in this project,” he said. “When we get to the point when we are laying concrete, we hope then that we won’t have such a hard time fundraising.”
Krieger said he understands residents have concerns with the addition of a skatepark in Belding, and encourages people to bring those concerns to the committee directly.
“There are a lot of people with concerns, but that’s fine,” he said. “We want different perspectives. They may be seeing something that we’re not.”
For now, Bennett and his friends said they will continue to leave town to other skateparks to spend their free time in other communities, but insisted and hope that this time next year, they will be spending that time skating in downtown Belding.
“I want to make it happen,” Bennett said. “That’s why me and my friends are going to these meetings. It has to happen, for the kids in this town, we need something to do.”