Appreciative crowd at Wiarton’s skatepark opening
About a dozen kids and young adults - on bikes, scooters and skateboards - enjoyed riding the ramps at the Joanne Lancaster Skateboard Park in Wiarton, which officially opened over the Labour Day weekend.
Joanne Lancaster, the park’s namesake, spearheaded the over five-year-long community fundraising effort, which garnered donations from local service clubs and businesses, the Town of South Bruce Peninsula and individuals to create the $150,000 facility in Bluewater Park.
“It was a big part of my life,” Lancaster said in an interview at the opening on Sept. 3.
“This was a big thing for Wiarton. It was a lot of money to raise. It took a lot of people’s efforts, not just mine.”
Once the site was ready, the kids couldn’t keep off it, Lancaster said.
Michael Rouse, 10, of Wiarton, was one of those kids. Rouse, who said he’s been going to skateparks for three years - including Port Elgin’s and one near London, Ontario - said he liked Wiarton’s because “it’s got a steep quarter pipe.”
Janice Jackson, Mayor of the Town of South Bruce Peninsula, briefly addressed the gathering of about 100 before introducing Lancaster.
“The Rotary, the Optimists, the community and the Lions [Club]; nobody gave up,” Jackson said. She thanked her fellow council members and said the park had been a priority for them.
“We don’t have enough for our youth to do in Wiarton and in South Bruce Peninsula and I think this is a great start,” Jackson said in an interview.
After being introduced, Lancaster explained why she’d been so driven to see the project through to the end.
“I almost hit a child on a skateboard coming down the hill [in Wiarton] and it was really kind of scary,” she said.
While she was able to swerve around the child, Lancaster said she wasn’t sure how the car behind her managed to avoid an accident.
“This has got to stop,” she thought. Kids in town needed a safe place to skateboard, she said.
“Every town has a skateboard park,” she added.
The highlight, perhaps, was Lancaster’s making good on a public promise she made over a year ago to ride the ramps herself - at age 70.
This was her first time on a skateboard, Lancaster said in an interview before her ride.
Donned in donated kneepads, elbow guards, her own helmet - and an ample amount bubble wrap which her daughter Tanya Lancaster wrapped around her midsection for protection - Lancaster, skateboard at her side, made her way to the top of the steepest ramp.
Spotted by Gayle Hall, President of the Wiarton District Optimist Club and Sabrina Kreiner, a member of the Skateboard Fundraising Committee - Lancaster flew down the ramp, letting out a whoop as she kicked out one leg in a sitting duck position until she came to a stop - where she stood and flung her arms over her head in triumph.
The onlookers answered with shouts of appreciation as they broke into a loud applause.
“I feel fantastic. I couldn’t be any happier,” Hall said.
“It’s been a long haul of five years but the vision that Joanne [a fellow Optimist member] and I saw has finally come true. It’s an absolute joy to see the kids on it,” Hall said. But Lancaster’s not done yet. She’s already started a fundraising campaign to add two benches to the site at a total cost of about $5,000.
Even without benches, the new recreational facility has already received high praise.
Nick Thorn, a Wiarton native, rode the course on his bike at the launch.
“I was on the council [committee] for this and I really pushed for it . ... It’s a dream come true for a lot of kids around here,” Thorn, 21, said in an interview.
“It’s really going to blow some minds around here. If people have a chance to check it out they definitely should.”
Growing up in Wiarton, Thorn said he knew kids who weren’t into hockey, lacrosse or other sports.
“It’s hard because there’s really nothing else. They have to travel and some families can’t really afford to travel as often,” he said.
“This is definitely going to be good for the community and the future of the town.”
Thorn recently returned to Wiarton after competing semi-professionally in BMX for the past two years. He also worked at Joyride 150, in Markham, Ontario - one of the biggest bike parks in Canada, he said, and taught at a BMX camp in Haliburton over the summer.
When asked how Wiarton’s skatepark measures up Thorn said, “it’s a good one,” adding it’s a smooth and really fun course.
“It’s similar to the Tobermory skatepark. It’s not quite as big as Port Elgin but it’s a lot nicer kind of flow. It’s a straight edge, there’s not as many corners and stuff. It’s definitely a good learner park.”
Thorn plans to look into starting an after-school skatepark program in Wiarton to share tips based on his experience.
Bill Walker, MPP for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound and a former recreation director for the town, called the event “a great day for Wiarton.”
“I’m a big proponent of being outside, being active and giving people the opportunity to be out and doing those type of activities that they enjoy,” Walker said, congratulating Lancaster and everyone who helped with the project.
Don Standen, a councillor candidate for South Bruce Peninsula said he’s glad the park is “finally opened.”
“Joanne Lancaster should be thanked and commended for what she has done. And it’s beautiful. It’s far beyond what I would have expected. I hope the kids have lots of fun on it,” Standen said in an interview.
Kathy Durst, fellow councillor candidate, said she felt great joy at the skatepark’s opening.
“There is nothing more gratifying to anybody [than] to watch something come together based on identified community need,” she said.
Gayle Hall (left), President of the Wiarton District Optimist Club, Joanne Lancaster and Sabrina Kreiner, all of Wiarton, celebrated the opening of the Joanne Lancaster Skateboard Park at Bluewater Park in Wiarton on Sept. 3. Hall and Kreiner spotted Lancaster - donned in bubblewrap for the occasion - when she fulfilled her promise to ride a skateboard at the park’s opening - at age 70.
Kids - who couldn’t wait for the park to officially open - rode their bikes, scooters and skateboards as Joanne Lancaster, the park’s namesake, spoke to the crowd gathered in Bluewater Park for the launch on Sept. 3.