Charles River SkatePark Still Hibernating

Are you tired of shoveling out your walkway? Do you think it’s been a while since you’ve seen the pavement under the snow? Spend a moment thinking of the less fortunate Bostonians who don’t have any pavement at all. I’m talking about the supporters of the Charles River Skatepark, a skateboarders’ paradise planned for the ramps under the Zakim Bridge in East Cambridge. Entering its second decade of planning and development, the Skatepark is one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard for using the space under a highway. After all, it’s not as though you’re going to grow a goldenrod meadow under Route 93—and most skateboarders don’t seem to go to parks for the view.

The Skatepark is a popular idea, too. Since 2001 more than 400 local youth and other presumed skateboarders contributed to the design, the Charles River Conservancy has raised over $2.5 million to build a fun, squiggly, concrete pave-o-rama since 2004.  So why doesn’t it exist?

Alas, the typical dull reasons are keeping skateboarders home at night (although at least one Brookline skater has an amazing basement to keep himself occupied). According to a WHDH report in June, 2010, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT), which owns the site, had not yet transferred the land to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, which is supposed to create and maintain the site. Given that this park had been planned since 2001, I’m beginning to wonder how much advance notice the Mass DOT needs for land transfers. Is there an Olde Meadowe somewhere in Charlestown being reserved for cattle drives? But I digress.

The other inevitable problem in our historic industrial city is soil contamination. That WHDH report states there’s asbestos in the adjoining site, and all the trucks that parked on the land during Big Dig construction dripped motor oil and heaven knows what chemical monstrosities into the soil. All that soil needs to be cleaned up at great expense, alas—which seems odd, given that it’s going to be covered with pavement… if it ever gets built.

By now, all the youth who consulted on the park’s design are shaving and/or looking for jobs, or perhaps lobbying for a skate park in Brookline. The latest press release from june, 2010 says that the DCR and  the Charles River Conservancy are still discussing “how best to establish a long-term operation and maintenance plan,” which sounds suspiciously like “arguing over who is going to pay for upkeep.”

The lesson?  Be grateful for the pavement you have—and make sure you own the land before you plan to put in any more. Getting access to the site could take a long, long, long time.

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