Ap­pre­cia­tive crowd at Wiar­ton’s skatepark open­ing

Wiarton Echo - - FRONT PAGE - ZOE KESSLER Ed­i­tor

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.

ZOE KESSLER/WIAR­TON ECHO

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.

ZOE KESSLER/WIAR­TON ECHO

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.

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