Aaron Murray has been going to the Windham Skate Park for 10 years. It’s a place of solace, he said, a place where community and friendship are allowed to prosper for kids who don’t always have a place to be together outside of school.

“The Windham Skate Park is pretty much a second home to the kids in Windham,” said Murray. “It’s a place for us to get away and know you have support from other people.”

Murray was among the approximately 30 skaters and parents who packed into the council chambers Tuesday night to defend the town skate park following rumors that the park may be closed.

While councilors said they had no intention of shuttering the park, speakers defending the park proved so persuasive that the council promised to keep the park open into the night, and hinted that the site may be expanded in the future.

The rumors began after a recent misunderstanding regarding the park’s hours of operation caused confusion and some angry phone calls. Ultimately, the council decided to keep the park open until 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights through May, as originally intended.

The flap over the park began when the Windham Parks and Recreation Department printed a flier listed hours of operation that were “vague and ambiguous,” said Town Manager Tony Plante.

The flier said that the park would be open until 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights through May “until the weather warms up,” Plante said. On the first Friday the park was open, the sun was out and temperatures were high, leading recreation workers to believe they could keep the park open until 9, he said.

Meanwhile, the closing time of 6 p.m. had been communicated to neighbors by town workers. When skaters were still at the park after 6, calls were made to police and councilors by angry neighbors, leading to discussions among town officials about the skate park operation.

Spurred by the rumors regarding the closing of the skate park, kids and parents came to Tuesday’s meeting to dispel what they say are misconceptions about skaters as discontented troublemakers. One after another, they stepped to the microphone to hail the park as a community success story.

Donna Staples, whose son Ben has used the park for six years, said the complaints come from one or two neighbors bent on closing or moving the park any way possible. She said the benefits of the park outweigh the complaints of a couple of sensitive neighbors.

“If you had one person complaining would you not have a varsity football game on a Friday night?” Staples asked the council.

The kids and the town have taken steps to quell noise issues at the park, installing a berm and a wall and placing insulation on the ramps, Staples said.

“I’ve been to the skate park, and I don’t consider it excessive noise,” she said.

Marshall Parenteau said he started skating a year ago, and has found the park to be a place of gathering and support for kids who do not participate in other activities.

“Some people just don’t like baseball, soccer, basketball, any of the other sports,” he said.

At the park, he said, friends are made, with the older, more experienced skaters showing the way to their younger counterparts.

“There’s a great community there,” Parenteau said. “When they learn something, they pass it on. I just think it’s a great place.”

The supervised park is safe and free from drug and alcohol use, the skaters argued. It’s close to the school and the police station, and out in the open on a main street, they said.

“Friday night, Saturday night, my mom knows where I am,” said skater Steve Newcomb. “I’m at the skate park. I’m not out partying like some high school kids.”

It has been suggested in the past to move the skate park onto school grounds so that kids did not have to cross busy Route 202.

Moving the park now, supporters said, would be a waste of all the work that has gone into the current site.

A few residents did, however, suggest safety measures for the area. Sylvia Harkins said she drove past the skate park earlier in the day.

“I saw no signs, no warning, that I was approaching a skate park,” she said, adding that the town should work with the state to change the 50 mph speed limit on the road.

Instead of moving the park, some residents said, the town should think about expanding the park to include BMX biking as has been previously proposed.

Councilors Blaine Davis and John MacKinnon both said they support the inclusion of BMX biking at the park, and Councilor Donna Chapman said she was frustrated that a proposal for the bike park had not come back to the council from the recreation department.

“I don’t like the time it takes to get things done, personally,” Chapman said in response to a mother upset that the idea had lingered for so long.

Some residents suggested taking the idea a step further and using the town land around the park to create a gathering place for the whole town. Resident Larry Eliason suggested that townspeople could pitch in the time and equipment needed to build such a park.

“I think we should reach out to the community for help,” he said. “I don’t expect you to write a check.”

Griffin Macvane of Windham needed some help getting to the microphone at Tuesday’s town council meeting. Macvane was one of around 30 skate park supporters who attended the meeting to voice their support for the park.


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