SARATOGA SPRINGS – After more than a decade of skating the same metal ramps at the East Side Recreation skatepark, 28-year-old Martin DeLozier hopes he will soon get to try something new at his home skatepark.
“There is really only so much you do here before it gets slow,” he said as he shuttled back and forth across the cement park dotted with a handful of large metal obstacles.
The park’s limited collection of obstacles and slapdash design limits the tricks skaters can practice and drives many Saratoga Springs residents to the better-designed skatepark in Clifton Park.
But a major overhaul of the skatepark could soon be in the offing for the city’s growing skateboarding community and visitors to the popular summer destination. City officials on Tuesday were expected to approve new funding to upgrade the East Side Recreation skatepark with professionally designed, poured-in-place concrete obstacles – the standard for top skateparks around the world.
“It’s going to feel like a completely different world,” DeLozier said. “Something new will be incredible.”
Benj Gleeksman, a local skater who has worked for years to improve the skatepark, said the skatepark has long been in need of upgrades to offer skaters more variety, safety and lessen noise for nearby homes.
“Modern skateparks are all fully concrete,” Gleeksman said. “Our skatepark having metal ramps is outdated and it’s time for it to be fully poured in place.”
Gleeksman, who established the nonprofit On Deck Saratoga to support skateboarding in the city and is teaching skating lessons to about two dozen youth this summer, has been working closely with the city to upgrade the skate park for nearly a decade. A funding commitment from the city prior to the pandemic was put on hold amid the financial uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, leading Gleeksman and other skateboarding proponents to ramp up private fundraising for the park. But as the city’s finances have rebounded, the city funding has returned. Gleeksman said city officials about a month ago started to hint that the funding could be approved soon and on Monday he found out it was up for a vote Tuesday night.
“We are really happy that if they can do it they are going to do it,” he said.
The city council was expected to approve $265,000 at Tuesday’s meeting to fund improvements to the park. Gleeksman said he hoped to pitch in at least another $35,000 in private donations to support improvements.
“It provides a safe and suitable environment for the neighborhood and our skating visitors while lessening the use of inappropriate locations that can lead to danger, damage and disruption,” according to the city council resolution approving the funding.
Gleeksman and the city have been working with a skate park designer to develop plans that could then go out for bid. Gleeksman said professional skate park developers will have to do the work, noting that the project’s final timeline will likely come down to the availability of firms that specialize in skatepark work. The park will have to close while the work is completed, but it will reopen as essentially an all-new park complete with new obstacles ready for shredding.
On Tuesday afternoon, over a dozen skaters and bike riders worked the ramps, bars and pyramid at the park – easily the most used facility at East Side Recreation at the time. Skaters said they were excited to hear talk about improvements and noted the need to expand the kinds of obstacles and how they are designed in the park.
Ian Zalewsky, a 16-year-old Saratoga Springs resident, listed the obstacles the park could use and said adding new elements would allow him to practice more tricks and further refine his skating skills. He noted the need for more ledges, stairs, rails and more. He said some of the elements currently at the park are effectively “unskateable” because of their design and location. He pointed to a downbar – a rail running at a downward angle across a pyramidal metal structure in the center of the park – and explained how the proximity to a fence made it difficult to use.
“It’s just not in a good location to be skated,” Zalewsky said of the element. “I’ve tried to, but it didn’t work.”
Zalewsky said he skates a few times each week and enjoys the ability to strengthen his skills along with the camaraderie of others at the park.
“It’s relaxing, enjoyable and reduces stress,” he said of skateboarding. “You get to see your friends.”
Hunter Goodwin, a 15-year-old from Saratoga Springs, said he and his friends often visit the skatepark in Clifton Park. While the Clifton Park skatepark fits a smaller footprint than the Saratoga park – “Clifton,” as some of the skaters referred to it – the better design and layout, along with the more varied obstacles, makes it a better park than what’s offered in Saratoga.
“Yeah, it’s better,” Goodwin said of the Clifton Park skatepark.
Charlie Gleeksman, Benj’s 14-year-old daughter, said she visits the skatepark almost daily, sometimes just to hang out with friends.
“Sometimes I’m not even in the mood to skate,” she said. “I come here for the people, because they are all great and my friends. It’s a community.”
She and her friends sometimes skate in downtown Saratoga Springs, she said, looking for new obstacles and possible tricks, but that there would be less of a need to leave a new and well-designed park.
“A lot of us skate downtown, and a lot of people don’t like that,” she said, noting that police sometimes break up their skating sessions. “If we had a brand new park, we will be there. We all need a new park.”
The skate park has been in place for more than 30 years but has seen few upgrades over the years. About three or four years ago, the park was resurfaced with a smooth, concrete base, leading to a surge in new users. Benj Gleeksman and other skaters said they expected the same thing to happen after the upgrades. With skateboarding making its debut in the Summer Olympics this year, another surge in interest could be possible.
“The park has been way more popular than ever,” Gleeksman said. “Kids come up in the winter and shovel off the ramps. In the dead of winter, they are out here skating.”
Skaters at the park on Tuesday also dismissed the old stereotypes of skaters as troublemakers, highlighting the community aspect of the park and the attention and focus it takes to improve their skills.
Jenn Post said she often brings her three kids – ages 9, 11 and 15 – to the skatepark; some of them ride bikes across the obstacles. Noting upgrades to the baseball fields and other facilities of East Side Rec, Post said it was past due for upgrades to the skatepark.
“It will be good for all of the kids,” she said. “It’s been neglected. The rest of the park has been upgraded but not the skatepark. It’s a nice community to be around: skaters and bikers always want to help each other out. It’s that kind of community even though a lot of people don’t know it.”