Manchester’s New Skatepark Takes Shape
With initial phases of the Manchester Skatepark Project now complete, it is ready to welcome both new and seasoned skateboarders to Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park.
STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOEL RUBY STUDIOS
As skateboarders can tell you, the exhilarating rush of the air on your face and the smooth glide of wheels on the concrete can be unlike anything else experienced. It’s both liberating and a wonderful way to focus through an athletically engaging discipline. Pursuit of bettering your abilities and the sense of community that exists in a skatepark can lead to a feeling of purpose.
As Alec Beck of the Tony Hawk Foundation puts it, “Skateboarding is a chance for kids to learn for themselves about the power that they really have.”
In the same way that skateboarding can help build social connections, confidence, and self-esteem, the construction of Manchester’s new skatepark has brought the people of Manchester together across generational and cultural lines, uniting the town’s citizens, government, and local businesses in pursuit of a common goal.
Thanks to generous contributions, community fundraising, and the persistent action of the Manchester Skatepark Committee, Phases 1 and 1.5 of the Manchester Skatepark Project are now complete.
The pristine concrete skatepark was artfully designed by internationally renowned Seattle, Washington–based design firm Grindline Skateparks, and it now stands as an impeccably engineered and executed monument to the capability of Vermont community cooperation.
When the Manchester Skatepark Committee first started meeting years ago with a vision for a new skatepark, finding sources of funding was a major obstacle. Bill Strecker, veteran skateboarder and owner of the newly opened Arson Skate Shop in Manchester, detailed the early years of the committee. “I became part of the group seven years ago. We tirelessly met for years to decide on an initial plan for the park. We were slow-moving because in the early days we were just two skaters and a couple of moms in town working together. The town itself jumped in after five years and they got some people who had helped with fundraising. Once we got a police officer, a public relations person, the town engineer, and a couple more people behind us, it just built from there. The town then offered to [support] us with $50,000 from an urban planning fund.”
It was at that point that large donations started coming in. A couple of local individuals and an anonymous donor gave $185,000 toward the project. Peckham Industries, who supplied the concrete for the park’s construction, donated $25,000 of the costs, and local hardware store rk Miles gave generously as well. There were even donations from the nonprofit foundations of extreme sports public figures, Tony Hawk and Bode Miller. The Tony Hawk Foundation and Miller’s Turtle Ridge Foundation joined forces to give $10,000 to the park project. Manchester Town Manager John O’Keefe said that the real gift that the Tony Hawk Foundation provided was their advice on how to move the project forward. “The $10,000 was great. But the advice they gave us was amazing. They gave us advice on contracts, design, and process, and they also gave us their seal of approval, which is good for name recognition.”
A notable portion of the money for the skatepark came from small donations from local residents. Donation boxes made out of wood from old skateboards were placed in shops and restaurants around town, allowing the collective population of Manchester to contribute to the skatepark project. According to community organizer and skateboarder Matt Langan, one large-scale donation was entirely predicated on the ability of the Manchester public to show widespread support for the park’s development. Key community members went above and beyond to spread the word, making good use of social media promotion and holding unique fundraising events, such as skateboard painting that helped generate donor support on a grassroots level.
A noteworthy feature of the new Manchester skatepark is the marble in the park’s street course elements. The marble was locally sourced from the Danby Marble Quarry (the same quarry that cut the marble used to build the New York City Public Library). John O’Keefe paints a vivid picture of a trip that he and Grindline CEO Micah Shapiro took to the vast Danby Quarry, “We got to go up to the marble mine and it looked like the set from The Lord of the Rings when you get to the dragon’s lair. Since we’re a local municipality and they wanted to help out, all of the marble was donated. Micah was really stoked about going to the quarry and he said ‘the guys at the office are never going to believe I was here.’”
Micah says that Grindline’s approach to skatepark design is heavily influenced by input from the communities with which they work. This lines up with their philosophy of collective involvement and public participation. “We always want people to be involved and invested in the park. We want them to be able to take pride of ownership of the parks and the design process. Every community is different. The question is how to translate the things that make the community unique into a park’s design,” he says.
The Manchester Skatepark Committee believed that it was important to have the park be a reflection of the local culture. Features in the skatepark pay tribute to the unique topographical elements of Southern Vermont’s landscape. In addition to the 6-foot rounded half pipe channel and bowl features, the street course features the beautiful locally sourced marble elements and two conically curvy “volcano” components serve as concrete representations of the nearby mountains. A stream of blue paint runs through the base of the entire park, paying homage to the Battenkill River and creating a sense of dynamic energy that flows from one end of the park to the other.
As the project progressed, local skateboarders of all ages had considerable input in the park’s development. The committee expanded to include high school students from Long Trail School, who were present at park design sessions with Grindline. This helped to develop a park with elements that were complementary to both vert (half pipes and quarter pipes) and street (rails and banks) styles of skateboarding. The end result is a park that is both approachable for new skaters and athletically engaging for well-seasoned pros, allowing skateboarders of all skillsets to enjoy the park at whichever level they feel comfortable.
Bill Strecker is excited for the park’s potential to bring people together. In collaboration with other skateparks in Southern Vermont, he has started a series of skateboarding workshops and classes, creating opportunities for local kids to improve their skateboarding abilities in a fun and safe environment. The park not only serves as a place of learning and community connection, but also thanks to tireless planning at the town management office, its prominent placement within the Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park complex gives skilled skateboarders a perfect stage to showcase their abilities. As stated by John O’Keefe, “The general consensus from the skateboarders is that they didn’t want to be tucked over in the corner of the park. They wanted to be able to demonstrate their sport.”
With Phases 1 and 1.5 complete, the future of the Manchester Skatepark is both exciting and promising. With existing plans for Phases 2 and 3 in the works, the focus now shifts to raising funds for future development. The park has already drawn skaters from neighboring states and all corners of Vermont to come and skate it, bringing the regional skateboarding community together. Through the influence of collaborative effort, the town of Manchester has created an aesthetically stunning oasis of athletic expression with the new skatepark. The generosity of those who continue to help make this dream a reality proves that in the same way skateboarders gather momentum as they ride through the park, sometimes all it takes is a little push in the right direction to help start something magical.