Skateboarder Matt Pheaton, who is a regular user of the Haliburton Junction Skate Park said the graffiti isn’t the work of anyone he knows and doesn’t believe users would vandalize the park that took three years and close to a quarter million dollars to build. Pheaton said he and others that use the park do everything they can to maintain a clean area, whether that’s picking up trash and recyclable containers left by others to shoveling snow with care not to mar or gouge the park surface./DARREN LUM Staff

Skateboard park graffiti disappoints users, municipality

By Darren Lum

When it comes to the municipality and the skaters, graffiti isn’t what anyone wants to see at the Haliburton Junction Skateboard Park.

Sometime between the night of Friday, March 26 and the morning of Saturday, March 27, an unknown person or persons applied graffiti to much of the skateboard park. Although all of the graffiti was written with non-permanent “chalk-paint” and the messages were positive in sentiment – “Love one another” and “respect” – it was executed without permission from the municipality.

Long-time park user and 2016 HHSS graduate Matthew Pheaton was disappointed by the vandalism and wishes there could be surveillance to help with preventing this kind of behaviour.

“It would be great to see some sort of security go up here. For us, I don’t care about cameras, we’re just here to skate, have fun. I’m here to teach kids how to skate and have fun. That’s all I’m here [for]. The people that come here at midnight, 1 a.m. do this kind of stuff. Even though it’s only [chalk-paint] like it’s not actually spray paint … It’s the idea,” Pheaton said.
He said in the past he’s had people from the city come and ride at the park and comment how impressed they were that the skate park was as clean as it was.

This cleanliness is in-part owed to the users of the park, who work hard to keep it tidy. Pheaton says skaters see it as an investment in their enjoyment of riding.

“Us, the locals, we all … this is our life. This is all we have, really. In the summer time this is where we live. I’m here every day if I can be,” the electrician said.

He added the challenges and duration it took to get the park built provided the bedrock to why the regular users take the responsibility of being stewards of the park so seriously since it opened in June 2018. Reported in the Echo, the park took over the old ball diamond and cost close to $210,000 to construct. The project was paid for by funds raised by the Skate Park Fundraising Committee. Dysart donated the land for the project.

This isn’t the first time vandalism or graffiti has been seen at a local skate park.

The previous skate park located close to the library in town was vandalized with graffiti, and various tools such as squeegees used to clear the surface of water were broken.

Pheaton said among riders he knows there is a clear understanding that the park is a special place that isn’t going to be replaced if abused.

The approach is “to keep this place for as long as possible because this is the end game. This is the best we’re going to get for the time being unless someone decides to give us $1 million for a nice skate park, but you know that would be crazy. We just want to keep this because for all the kids in Haliburton this is where they all go,” he said.

Pheaton still holds a great amount of gratitude for contributors and skateboard park supporters such as Pasi Posti, who served on the Haliburton Junction Sake Park committee. He believes local skaters have an obligation to keep the park clean to honour those who helped make it possible.

Through his Twitter feed @Haliburton_Life, Posti wrote, “This just speaks to our local kids’ need to express themselves and it’s ironic that they’re so close to finding a much better outlet. Glad the paint washes off and hope for a rainy day at this point. Our town has great kids, they just need that little xtra [sic] push to get rolling.”

OPP interim detachment commander Daniel Collings wrote in an email the OPP were notified about this on March 29. Collings noted this is being considered a criminal offense, and the punishments include probation, community service and fines. No suspects have been identified.

“It’s sad to see such disregard targeting a passionate community project for our local youth,” Collings wrote.

Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts was disappointed by the graffiti. Though she recognizes the positive messages for what they are and appreciates it can be removed with little effort, she discourages this act as vandalism. Those who want to express themselves artistically in a public place are encouraged to present a proposal to council for approval.

This is a public venue that needs to be respected because it not only took considerable effort and money to have built, but it offers people of all ages and abilities an opportunity for recreation.

“We want our youth and even young adults like those guys [Pasi Posti and Matthew Pheaton] … to have a place to play and be active. To be fit and challenge each other and we have ideas to do some competitions – sadly, obviously nothing last year. It wouldn’t matter if it was the playground in Head Lake Park for little kids. Don’t vandalize public property,” she said.
Roberts said the township is moving towards the installation of a surveillance camera like they have planned for the Welcome Centre in Head Lake Park, which is expected to open later this year depending on COVID-19 restrictions.

Anyone concerned about the cameras related to privacy must realize it’s intent is to help to discourage vandalism and other illegal acts, she adds
“It is used to protect your property essentially and prosecute people who have damaged your property or have done illegal transactions in public places,” she said.

Pheaton wants the public to know to not judge skaters on how they look.
“It’s definitely none of the people that ride here and call this place their sanctuary,” he said. “You can have the sketchiest looking skateboarder and he is the weirdest dude ever, but at the same time he’ll be the nicest person ever because that’s just how skateboarders I find around here are. We all grew up in the same clique. We’re all really close,” he said.

Addendum: Over the Easter long weekend more graffiti was seen at the skate park and the OPP were seen in the parking lot. The OPP did not confirm details of an investigation and Mayor Roberts was not aware of the latest incident and did not comment. It’s not known if this latest graffiti was applied with permanent or non-permanent material.