Grinding for skate park at 11th St.
Children and adults rolled around on their skateboards and scooters at 11th Street Park’s hockey rink on November 11 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
For the past two months, Skate Hammonton has built a community of skateboarders who meet once a week to skate. The idea started when Joe Kalucki, 34, and Bill Keller, 43, saw a need for kids to have a place to skate.
“I bought a bunch of obstacles for my driveway because my son is out there. He skates. My daughter is right here. She skates a little bit. The boards are right here and the helmets are right there. Joe already had a bunch of obstacles. He bought more, so we said, ‘Let’s go meet at that spot,’” Keller said.
Keller has three children: Madelyn, 13, Will, 10, and Max, 5.
“Will has really taken to it [skateboarding]. Madelyn, my daughter, is a little hesitant. She’ll push around on a scooter most often. And same thing for my youngest son [Max]. Scooters are just so easy that it’s hard to get them away from them,” Keller said.
Keller said his son Max will take his skateboard and put it back in the truck and go back to his scooter.
“It’s just a matter of time [before he skates]. I’m not going to push it,” Keller said.
Keller has been skateboarding since he was a teenager into his 20s.
“I’ve skated as a teenager as a young kid into my 20s then I stopped for 20 years and then I had a board in my garage, and I decided to take it out with my son [Will] one day. I got hooked. He got hooked, so we fell right back into it. And that was about two-and-a-half years ago for me,” Keller said.
Kalucki has been skateboarding for 20 years straight.
“I got more into it during the pandemic because there wasn’t a lot to do, and I think the pandemic also made it aware that we need outdoor spaces for kids to go who aren’t doing the traditional sports, so that snowballed everything for me as well,” Kalucki said.
Skate Hammonton has kids from Atco and Berlin coming out to skate because there’s only one skate park in Atlantic County, and it’s in Atlantic City, which is not very accessible to get to, Kalucki said.
“As an alternative recreation, a lot of kids play baseball, football, kind of like those main street sports, but there’s a lot of kids out there who don’t want to do those things and they need a space to go to, so we provide that here,” Kalucki said.
Keller and Kalucki picked 11th Street hockey rink, which was abandoned until they started to utilize it.
“We picked this spot because it’s just an abandoned hockey rink left in disrepair. We came in, weed whacked, mowed everything down. It was all overgrown then we maintained it. Just kind of bring this public space back to life while simultaneously giving kids something to do at night,” Kalucki said.
The ultimate goal for Skate Hammonton is building a skate park in Hammonton.
“That’s the ultimate goal. That’s what we want to do, so first we want to start and build a community to show that there are people here who skate. So that when we go to the town and say, ‘We want a skate park.’ They don’t come back and say, ‘Nobody skates.’ Clearly people skate. At most, 25 kids come out, so there’s a need for it,” Kalucki said.
Kalucki had a phone call with Mayor Stephen DiDonato about having a skate park in Hammonton.
“We spoke briefly about it. Honestly, this space would be ideal for us. It falls within the Green Acres program for funding, so this is kind of the space they have to work with the Green Acres funding,” Kalucki said.
On October 20, Governor Phil Murphy announced over $100 million investment in urban parks, playgrounds and open spaces across New Jersey. 11th Street Park wasn’t listed for this round of the program.
According to a press release, “Green Acres provides low-interest loans and grants to assist local governments in the development of open space for conservation purposes and for diverse recreation needs. To meet these needs, Green Acres funds different types of parks in a variety of settings. This round of projects includes $42.2 million in grants and loans for 49 local (county and municipal) recreational park development projects in urban, suburban or rural areas across the state. All development loans are repayable over 20 years.”
The $100 million investment can be broken down to the following: $35.8 million for local (municipal and county) land acquisition projects, $42.2 million for local development of parks and recreational facilities, $2.3 million for local stewardship projects, $8.8 million for acquisition projects by nonprofit organizations, $4.9 million for nonprofit recreational development and $901,000 for nonprofit stewardship projects. For more information, visit https://www.nj.gov/dep/greenacres/pdf/local-nonprofit-press-package-2021020.pdf.
Skate Hammonton has received positive feedback from the park’s neighbors.
“We actually had a couple neighbors come out that live across the way. I think his name is Michael. He’s like, ‘This is amazing. No one has used this park in how many years. It’s great to see everyone out here,’” Kalucki said.
There are some safety concerns, however, when it comes to skateboarding. During their Skate Nights, Skate Hammonton encourages kids to wear their helmets and pads.
“Skateboard is interesting. People tend to know their abilities and how far they can push themselves. And there’s a lot more community feel with skateboarding. You see someone doing something and you’re like, ‘I don’t know if you can do that. Maybe scale it back.’ But there are safety concerns sure,” Kalucki said.
“Plus you become good at falling. You can roll out of things in falling. It makes me feel alive in a way,” Keller added.
Despite falling 98 percent of the time while learning new tricks, people still enjoy skateboarding.
“I skateboard because it brings me joy. I love it. It’s like yoga and therapy,” Keller said.
Kalucki said “there’s no wrong way to skateboard.”
“You can come, roll around. There’s no wrong way to do it, so you can be yourself, truly who you are on a skateboard,” Kalucki said.
Skate Hammonton encourages everyone to come out.
“Don’t be intimidated. Everyone started somewhere. We all were terrible at one point. It’s a very hard sport to learn, but once you get the fundamentals, you get it very fast,” Kalucki said.
In October, Skate Hammonton did a Halloween promotion to spread the word. For the promotion, Kalucki dressed as Rod Kimble from Hot Rod and pictures were taken of him skating in downtown Hammonton.
“Not a lot of people see skateboarders downtown. I had people honking and taking pictures, and it was a cool way to see that skateboarding is fun. It’s interesting, and downtown Hammonton is fun and interesting. We want to attract those types of people there,” Kalucki said.
A skate park is also a great place for people who roller skate or ride scooters.
“It’s not just for skateboarding either. Roller skating is huge right now. Scooters, whatever. It’s a multi-purpose space and that’s used all-year round. Traditional sports are what six months out of the year? Skateboarding is all-year round. As long as it’s not raining, we will be out here,” Kalucki said.
“We always hear kids’ parents complaining, ‘Kids don’t go outside enough.’ Let’s give them a place to go,” Kalucki said.
On November 17, Skate Hammonton announced on Instagram that they had to cancel their Skate Night after having a conversation with Parks and Recreation.
“We have to temporarily stop organized and planned skate nights at 11th Street until we are approved as a legitimate organization. This can take up to four weeks, but we are trying to get it through faster. More to come on that,” reads their Instagram post.
Once Skate Hammonton is approved as an organization, they will have “full use of the abandoned hockey rink and lights for skate nights.”
They will also have insurance in case anyone gets injured while skating at the hockey rink.
“Being approved means we are legitimate organization much like a softball or baseball league. This is a huge positive! It will show the community that there is a need for a skate park in town and that we are following guidelines to make that happen.
“I know it’s easy to be frustrated at the town for this, but we have to go through proper channels if we want a park in the near future. A small setback now is well worth the payoff of having skate nights that are approved and backed by the town where we can safely skate without looking over our backs.
“While approval is going through we cannot have any planned or organized events and we cannot use the lights. That does not and should not stop us from skating!” reads their Instagram post.
The town of Hammonton currently has a survey regarding the potential future of 11th Street Park and what recreational activities people want to see there. The survey may be found here. Results have not been made public yet.
“We strongly encourage everyone to show their support by filling that questionnaire out and to put ‘skate park’ at the top of their list,” Kalucki said.