Skate park to remember Graham Dickinson with special celebration Saturday

There’ll be music, food and free skating, scooter and BMX riding all weekend when Ridgefield’s Graham Dickinson SPIRIT Skate Park hosts its annual celebration of founding member and namesake, Graham Dickinson, on Saturday Aug. 12, with a rain date Sunday, Aug. 13, from noon to 6 p.m.

“Admission to the park will be free all weekend, with music, food, demos, and instructors on hand,” said Park Director Linda Caponetti.

“We’re coming up on twenty years next year,” Caponetti added. “This is a milestone that few if any town parks can match, and one that turns our attention back to the founders of the park, and how a grassroots group succeeded in making friends out of enemies and creating a great new venue for extreme sport enthusiasts.”

The park is open seven days a week from March to December. Summer drop-in rates are $10 a day for Ridgefielders and $15 for non-residents. Weekday rates during the school year are $7 for residents and $12 for non-residents. The park is located at 60 Prospect Street — behind Yanity Gym. It offers summer camps, spring and fall lessons, private lessons, annual or season memberships, 10-visit passes, and drop-in rates. Birthday parties, and private rentals are also available.

Caponetti said many of the skaters — and BMX and scooter riders — may not be familiar with the story of how the park got started and named. “This was a true grassroots effort, an organic experience, with skaters, their parents, and supporters shining a light on a serious and growing problem in downtown Ridgefield.

Skaters and Main Street businesses and pedestrians were at odds over downtown real estate, and something had to be done. As skaters attempted to try their tricks on sidewalks, steps, curbs and rails, tensions boiled over and things got ugly. The police were called in on a number of occasions.  

In 1996, a group of young skaters took it upon themselves to approach then First Selectman Sue Manning. They complained about having no public place to skate, and of being run off private parking lots, public sidewalks and other paved areas wherever and whenever they tried to practice their tricks. To be sure, the frustration of Main Street businesses, and people trying to use its sidewalks and parking places was equally high, as skaters interfered with those trying to walk, shop, or do business downtown. Something definitely had to be done.

Manning put together a group of concerned parents at East Ridge Middle School, with then principal Mary Capwell.

“Out of that meeting came the idea to form a committee and enlist the support of the teens, their parents, and public officials and citizens sympathetic to the cause,” Caponetti said. “This meeting created the group called SPIRIT, standing for Skate Park In Ridgefield — It’s Time!” And it was time. Ridgefield needed a skate park.

“We held skate competitions on home-built ramps in public parking lots in town,” Caponetti said. “We spoke to local groups and town officials. We cleaned Main Street. We talked to business owners and held public meetings. We spoke at the Middle School, the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, etc.”

Ultimately, thanks to the support of many, the group raised about $25,000, which the town matched, as well as providing SPIRIT with a place to build their park.

“Graham Day is very important in remembering our founders and a young man who tragically wasn’t able to enjoy the park he worked so hard for. SPIRIT Park opened July 24, 1998. Graham skated it for about a week before he left for Woodward, (a skate camp in Pennsylvania), returning home to start an internship at Spin City in New York. On his way home from the Branchville train station, he was hit and killed on Route 7, a week after his Aug. 9 sixteenth birthday. No, he wasn’t on a skateboard. He was just walking home.”

“Graham needs to be remembered,” Caponetti said. “We have memorialized him in our name, our mission, and also by remembering his birthday every year with a free skate weekend around this time.”

For information, call the skate park at 203-431-2342, or Caponetti at 203-431-2368 or 203 431-2755 (The Recreation Center).