Skateboard park: investment in youth

Published Monday October 27th, 2008 - Telegraph Journal

Skateboarders from the Saint John region owe Jason MacLean a big thank you. Since 2004, the Sussex native and graduate of UNB-Saint John has brought his love of skateboarding and our community, winning personality, leadership and technical skills to a project close to their hearts.

This Halloween it's no trick - Saint John's new skateboard park will become a reality and reveal its closely guarded new name. It's a day many skeptics thought might never come.

It will give countless enthusiasts a place to call their own. And what a place it is. Even to the completely uninitiated, it is an impressive, intricately contoured structure of concrete, granite, metal and stone, cleverly designed to emulate local landmarks and architecture and constructed by real-life skateboarders who are also skilled craftsmen and tradespeople.

The Fundy Skatepark Association is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the construction of a world-class skateboarding facility. Its vision is to be the best skatepark in eastern Canada, inject new energy into uptown Saint John and embrace one of the world's fastest-growing athletic phenomena.

It's not even officially open yet, but that didn't stop about 100 youngsters from checking out the new skateboard park on Sunday. Although it was raining outside, they were sheltered under the viaduct. The new park is scheduled to officially open Friday.

As the project took hold, supporters hailed it as having the potential to be a pivotal landmark in the city, complementing and adjoining two of the most successful recreational initiatives in the recent history of Saint John: Harbour Passage and Harbour Station, at the juncture of the spectacular St. John River and the Bay of Fundy.

Jason MacLean is very complimentary about the lead role taken by the Greater Saint John Community Foundation back in 2004. He says: "They decided to take a leap of faith and commit $10,000 to our cause - that changed everything. Now we had a snowball to roll, more partners came on board and this gave us the confidence to approach council with a plan and an ask."

That gave the group credibility, which he and his group eventually parleyed into commitments totalling more than $600,000. Uptown Saint John, Aliant,CIBC, Moosehead, UCT-Jack Kidd Council, Commercial Properties, RBC, Scotiabank, the city and province all came on board. "After amassing three-quarters of the funds required in 2007, we knew that we had a project! Our group then went through a lengthy process of ensuring the site met all stakeholder requirements. In August 2008 we officially received the final green light to start construction."

Benefits include providing the city with infrastructure and an activity that will attract talented young professionals, university and community college students, as well as tourists. The skatepark will also provide a recreational facility for local youth, regardless of economic background, help in the retention of educated youth and young professionals who already live in the area and the creation of skateboarding events, such as joint competitions and concerts, that will attract participants and fans from far and wide

"The skatepark," says MacLean, "gives Saint John a new market opportunity in extreme sport festivals. Skateboarding is more than a fad: It has become a culture."

Individual activities such as skateboarding have replaced traditional team sports for many youths. Skateboarding is one of the fastest-growing sports in the recreation sector. Promoters such as Bill MacMackin of Saint John Waterfront Development , Stephanie Bell of FUSION and Dick Daigle of Uptown Saint John see it helping the True Growth Strategy, to attract and retain people, ideas and investment.

"We are very excited to have this new park on the waterfront," says MacMackin. "It provides a great place for our youth to have some recreation and the builders have done an exceptional job of building it in a way that is very complementary to the uptown, the waterfront and Harbour Passage. Hats of the all the volunteers involved."

Greater Saint John's Vital Signs report has alerted our community to our high rates of obesity and need for physical fitness, particularly among low-income young people.

We know as well from Vital Signs that our community has more than its share of children living below the poverty line. Numerous studies demonstrate the positive effects daily physical activity have on student performance and academic achievement in terms of memory, observation, problem solving and decision-making, as well as significant improvements in attitudes, discipline, behaviour and creativity. Skateboarding can be a challenging, exhilarating, creative activity that promotes healthy, active lifestyles.

Cities that have built skateboard facilities want their young people in a safer environment, off the streets and out of troubles that arise from a lack of activities. It will move the area's growing skateboard population from dangerous and inappropriate locations to a professionally designed safe facility. As Bernie Morrison, commissioner of Saint John's leisure services department says, it gives young people an alternative to crime and drugs and a place to meet their friends, gather and be active. The park, he says, is an investment in our youth.

Skateboard facilities are underway in Moncton, Halifax, St. John's, Sydney and Bathurst ,but the skilled tradespeople and skateboarders who work for the B.C. company New Line Skateparks Inc., which designed and built Saint John's skatepark, say the local facility is tops when it comes to craftsmanship, attention to detail, the quality of work and its well-thought-out design.

The design is so connected to our heritage and the attractions, natural and man-made, that it adjoins. Good lighting, high visibility, security and easy access to public transportation add to its positive attributes.

As the You Tube video plays Man on The Move and Jason MacLean weaves skillfully through the uptown, his words take on new meaning.

"My experience with this project could be metaphorically compared to a skateboarder trying a new trick," MacLean says. "At first it seems impossible and then you try it and fall a couple of times, only to realize how hard it is.

"Then you forget about the challenge and just do your best to enjoy it. You realize that all of the hard work was worth it when you finally land it. This project has changed my life and most hope that it positively changes lives in Saint John."

Sophia Guitard, treasurer of the Greater Saint John Community Foundation, a supporter of the new skateboard park that is due to open Friday, admires the project as Danny Koriath tries out a few moves. At right is Kyle Bell and beside him is Jason MacLean, project leader of the skateboard park since 2004. Koriath and Bell are both skateboarders and tradespeople working on the project.

Community Profile is a weekly column highlighting community causes and work done by non-profit organizations in the Greater Saint John area. It is contributed by Jane Barry, executive director of the Greater Saint John Community Foundation. Contact the foundation at 672-8880. To view other Community Profiles go to