Spencer Eastman: Build skate park, not big hotel | Columns

North Conway is a tourist destination where for decades countless families have set up vacation homes and have made it a ritual to come here year after year. They love our beautiful fresh water, small town vibes, our ski spots and our love for the outdoors.

Locals are the reason this town stays alive, but the town seems to forget about the people and families who live here year-round and keep all of the tourist attractions running. The youth of this town have hiked all the spots, swum in all the rivers and shopped at all the stores. They are bored, and boredom is dangerous. They need a spot to call their own. They need a skatepark.

This isn’t the first time we have spoken out. Countless letters have been written to The Conway Daily Sun, pushing for a skate park. But instead of addressing our needs, the town is allowing another four-story to be put up in the intervale, one that letter writers have said would be an eyesore, in a spot that would be perfect for a skatepark.

Over the past year, more outdoor recreational spaces have been destroyed than built. For example, the Conway Rec Center was demolished because it was too expensive to renovate. The now empty lot would be a perfect for a skatepark because there is a large amount of open space.

People like to demonize skateboarding because of its link to hip-hop, graffiti-writing and rap music, which projects skating as a rebellious sport. Some individuals have even called skating an unwanted and non-contributory use of public space. In reality, most skaters go for the love of skating, the adrenaline rush, the satisfaction of landing a new trick. Skaters treat their local skate park with respect because there is a sense of ownership.

There are two options that would keep crime out of the skate park. The first option would be to set up a system where people have to pay for a ticket or a pass to get in. This would deter crime because people don’t want to pay to get kicked out for causing trouble. The second option would be put it in a well-seen area, keeping the park in the public eye. From my experience, and I have been to eight different skateparks all over New Hampshire, people don’t skateboard to cause trouble. A lot of skaters skate to escape from the trouble.

A skate park also provides a space for bikers, rollerbladers and scooter riders. The risk of injury that comes with extreme sports is known but skating is actually not as dangerous as most assume. A study from 2002-06 in a community with a population of 100,000 people with three or more skate parks showed that over the five years there were only 50 skatepark-related injuries, mostly fractures occurring to the upper limbs. Over the five-year study there were no head or neck injuries and no accidents that required surgery.

There are also many ways to make a skatepark a safer place. There can be supervision and helmet requirements, as helmets reduce the risk of hospitalization and serious injury. It is also important for the skatepark to have a steady progression from beginner to expert-level features.

Research from the Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning also shows that physical outdoor activities serve as an antidote to excessive screen use, which can have detrimental effects on adolescents’ psychosocial health. Physical activity significantly heightens people’s moods and energy levels. Adding a skatepark to this town will have countless benefits.

In the summer, my friends and I have to travel over 40 miles just to find a place to skate legally and out of people’s way. In New Hampshire it is prohibited to skateboard on the sidewalks or public places.

There are a lot of reasons why North Conway needs a skatepark. It would not only be a place for people to be physically active outdoors but also provide a place for young people to socialize, something that has been lacking during the last year due to the pandemic.

A study conducted by the Journal of Urban Design showed that skateboarding provides a place for people to go as an escape. Thirty-four kids in urban areas were asked about why they skate. One person said the skate park gave him a place to get away from his physically abusive father and get support from his peers. Many local kids are looking for an escape from their problem, whether home troubles, relationship issues, substance abuse problems, etc. 

The extreme sports community of this town is itching for a skatepark. The view of skating as a negative thing has been proven wrong.

With skating not being as dangerous as people say, improving mental health, and just getting the youth outdoors should be enough of a reason to add a skatepark to the town.

As a town we have to set our priorities straight. What is more important: More hotels or a place for the youth to hang out that we have desperately needed for years? Let’s put the next four-story hotel on hold and let’s build a skatepark.

Spencer Eastman, 18, is a native of North Conway.