Twenty-five years ago, Brian McCann and his friends got kicked out of High Acres Park for building ramps and skateboarding on an abandoned basketball court tucked away in a corner of the park.
Now, he’s trying to drum up enough community support to build a handicap-accessible skate park for children and families on the same court.
“A lot has changed, skateboarding is more mainstream. It’s not such a bad culture thing anymore,” McCann said. “The biggest thing that got me is if you go to the skate park in Tobyhanna, it’s kids and families and it’s a whole different element than it was when I was a kid.”
With community support, McCann envisions creating a concrete paradise for children from Barrett Township and the surrounding areas will be able to enjoy for decades. As a kid, McCann and his friends often found themselves without anything to do but skate board or try and find somewhere to skate board.
In the mid-90s, McCann and his friends discovered the unused court and decided to make it their own. The teens built ramps and would ride from miles away just to have an area to skate. The skateboarders’ paradise did not last long. The township found out and told them to remove the ramps and if they came back they would be charged with trespassing, citing concerns about insurance.
“About 15 of us would come out and skate every day and we had the greatest time. We built ramps, a whole bunch of little ones and we would hide them in the woods,” McCann said. “Then the township found them and took them all. They gave them back but we could never come back here again or we would be fined for trespassing.”
The idea to approach township officials and the zoning commission came to McCann while he was watching a television show about a skate park in the West Bank region of the Middle East. The area, which is known for being contested between multiple cultural groups, seemed an unlikely place for camaraderie but that is exactly what the skate park brought to children of the region, according to McCann.
So he decided to take to social media and gauge how his own community would feel about a similar project. The reaction was more positive than he expected and he soon found himself pitching the idea to township officials.
“It’s more mainstream, more common and more accepted. I figured I would hit a roadblock and get people to sign petitions and now all I have to do is get my plans drawn and get permits,” McCann said.
McCann’s vision for the skate park is an area that is handicap-accessible and has features that extreme sport athletes of all disciplines could utilize. Instead of having it tailored specifically to skateboarders, it will be designed for bikers, scooter riders, and rollerbladers.
His biggest motivation is creating something that will keep kids busy and out of trouble. For some of McCann’s friends growing up, skateboarding was an outlet that kept them out of harm’s way and doing something constructive.
“If you’re not on the team or sitting on the bench, you’re out and then what are you going to do? If you don’t make the team, you can come over here and ride stuff. And that’s when most kids I knew kind of fell towards the other way,” McCann said.
Despite ambitious plans to add ramps, a staircase, rails, a half pipe, and more to the space, McCann said his biggest obstacle would be insuring the potential skate park. After reaching out to companies, McCann estimates insurance will cost between $2,000 and $20,000 per year.
He hopes to set up a trust fund and use the interest to pay for insurance. For construction, McCann hopes to bring the community together in order to build the various structures within the park rather than paying an outside company for the work.
“I don’t want to be given a bunch of money and hire a contractor to come out here and build this. I want a bunch of masons to come down and show the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and every kid in town how to spread concrete and make this themselves,” McCann said.
A timetable on when he hopes to start work is still unclear, as he has to secure funding but McCann said he is optimistic about the future of the project. McCann added that he had meetings scheduled with more officials, including State Rep. Rosemary Brown (R-189).