PORTLAND – In its first month, the newest skatepark in Maine has brought out riders in droves, from a range of age groups and in all temperatures.

To be sure, the new skatepark at Dougherty Field in Portland is loved. Already it has become a friendly gathering spot for local riders.

And it just might grow their numbers.

Last Tuesday, when Philip Savage, 20, of Portland, stood wearing a sweatshirt despite the chilly weather, he watched a child, a teenager and a man he said was in his 30s skating. All were expert riders.

Then on weekends the park quickly fills and overflows. Other riders who came out last Saturday and stood in line said the park can’t accommodate the interest.

“It’s like a game of crossfire here,” said Peter Higgins, 20, of Portland, as he watched skaters dart into the center. “There are a fourth the number of people who could be here, and it’s really crowded already.”

That morning, snow was on the ground at 9 a.m. But by noon, riders converged at the concrete park and swept up the puddles. In an hour it went from four riders to 30 bikers and skateboarders.

It was cold and damp, and nobody cared.

A father and son settled into the shallow impression riders call “the cereal bowl,” and worked on turns.

“This is our thing. It’s something we do together,” said Kris Hanson, 51, there with his 8-year-old son, Nate.

Moments later, they asked 19-year-old Illes Estes if they could borrow his BMX bike to try out.

No problem.

With nearly 30 riders of some kind, age or size zipping around, a little controversy seemed inevitable. But this is another part of Portland’s new skatepark.

The place has some kind of communal karma.

Sharing tricks and equipment in these conditions are common courtesies everyone follows.

“Crowds don’t bother Nate. We tried biking together and he won’t get on a bike. He likes this,” said Hanson, of Freeport, who was waiting to ride more than riding.

Riders check their impatience at the gate and wait in line. Sure it’s small. Many said they’d like it bigger. But it’s also free. And with that, chock full of gratitude.

“I’m eternally grateful they built this skatepark. There is a lot here that’s not in the city,” Savage said. “How many random bowls do you see in Portland? How many times do you have a chance to ride a transition like that? They don’t exist.”

But make no mistake, riders say the skatepark won’t change the way riding is done in Maine’s biggest city.

“It’s impressive and there are nice obstacles. It’s a great hassle-free place to learn tricks. But the other thing is, we’ll continue to go downtown. It’s never been about following the rules. Not to mention, it’s not half as cool to do video here than out on the streets,” said Savage, who came out to ride on a cold Tuesday afternoon.

Savage said the park won’t change riders’ habits. Skateboarding is a culture, not a corporate activity. And riding has always been more art than sport.

“You need the credibility of doing tricks in the street. It’s fun to mob on a place. That’s never going to change,” Savage said.

City officials considered expanding the park, or even building a second park, but funding beyond the $325,000 facility at this time was not possible, said city recreation director Sally DeLuca.

“When you work in recreation, you’re always thinking about ‘Does your community need more, is it enough?’ But funding is the biggest hurdle. And concrete is not cheap,” DeLuca said. “It’s a good problem to have, for it to be so popular.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]