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Activist describes long road to state’s first skate park


By Andy Metzger


CAMBRIDGE — More than a decade in the making, the start of construction of the first skateboarding park undertaken by the Department of Conservation and Recreation was preceded by some determined advocacy by Renata von Tscharner of the Charles River Conservancy.

“I’m about to lay on you my highest accolade for a person who’s an advocate of any kind. Renata is a huge pain in the . . . ,” said Congressman Michael Capuano, cutting himself off but leaving little doubt of his meaning. “And I say that with incredible respect because that’s what it takes … I tried to ignore her.”

Capuano and other elected officials huddled in a tent away from the driving rain Thursday morning in a gravel-strewn lot girded by an Interstate 93 overpass, on-ramps, commuter rail tracks and Boston Sand and Gravel. Joined by professional skateboarders from California, the officials were celebrating the groundbreaking of the 40,000 square-foot skate park and recreation facility, which is set to open in 2015.

An architect and the mother of a skateboarder, von Tscharner said she became aware of the need for a park from skateboarders at the Boston Public Library. According to the conservancy, sculptor Nancy Schon became involved when she learned her Tortoise and Hare sculptures and the Make Way for Ducklings pieces were being used by skateboarders.

Funding came from a variety of sources. The Tony Hawk Foundation provided a $5,000 seed grant in 2003, and the CRC raised more than $3 million. The Lynch Foundation donated money as did the shoe company Vans, which kicked in $1.5 million and $25,000 in annual contributions for seven years to pay for maintenance.

“It has been a long road and it has been amazing,” said von Tscharner.

The park is right next to the relatively new North Point Park in Cambridge, and the skate park will cater to skaters, BMX bikers, in-line skaters, scooter-riders and people in wheelchairs. Every year, Vans plans to hold two “large-scale” events at the facility.

Capuano described the area, a former brownfield site, as in “the middle of nowhere” and an “illegal dumping ground.”

DCR Commissioner Jack Murray said proponents needed to navigate the Federal Highway Administration’s regulatory process, and said the skate park is the first of its kind for DCR. Von Tscharner credited lawyer Robert Fitzpatrick, of WilmerHale, with providing pro bono legal help.

Steve Van Doren, of Vans, said he was born in Quincy before his family moved to California where his father started the shoe company in 1966. Van Doren said that when he showed up Thursday the rain had created a giant puddle on the site, but workers quickly fixed that problem, dumping gravel to make a temporary road.

“I know there’s somebody from Transportation, but we kind of bogarted on you guys this morning. We made a road in about 15 minutes,” Van Doren said.

“I would say this is a nice road but it seems to be temporary,” Transportation Secretary Richard Davey told the News Service afterwards.

Gov. Deval Patrick was scheduled to attend the event – where Van Doren said he planned to give him a pair of shoes – but traffic prevented his arrival, according to state officials. Professional skateboarders Tony Alva and Christian Hosoi were in attendance, according to the CRC.

The land had belonged to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and was transferred to DCR in August, according to the Patrick administration. DCR permitted CRC to begin construction.

Rep. Tim Toomey, an East Cambridge Democrat and Cambridge city councilor, said he would bring his skateboard to the ribbon-cutting.

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