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Catoctin skate park sparks controversy in Leesburg

Current rendering of the Catoctin Skate Park expansion Photo Courtesy/Town of Leesburg
Newly released conceptual designs for the Catoctin Skate Park have sparked a controversy about the practicality of spending taxpayer money on a project that perhaps only a few will enjoy.

Leesburg Town Council member Bruce Gemmill was the first to speak up about his disapproval of the project, calling it “outrageous.”

“We had 40 people come into the public hearing a few years ago in support of the skateboard park and that seemed to be enough for the council to approve funding which began at about $500,00 and is now a nearly $1 million venture,” he said. “Forty people out of [a] nearly 47,000 population. It’s a question of want versus need.”

The current 12,000-square-foot skating area features obstacles for skateboarders, inline skaters and bikes. Originally initiated by a group of young, local skaters, the expansion will be funded by private and public support.

Shifting the skate park to the adjacent gravel lot will allow for the expansion of the Loudoun County Rescue Squad next door. The rescue squad is offering $260,000 to aid in the skate park project.

Providing Leesburg with quality amenities for its residents is part of the council members' goals. The issue falls within spending a shrinking taxpayer’s budget on an issue that wasn’t pressing, according to Gemmill.

He went on to say the funds could be spent on alternative projects.

“Wouldn’t that money be better spent improving sidewalks, like the sidewalks near Morven Park, and streets, or perhaps improving the downtown to attract more businesses and visitors?”

Gemmill is not alone in his feelings. Council members Suzanne Fox and Tom Dunn were also opposed to awarding additional funding to the project.

Local skateboarders disagree. Leesburg resident Staci Ahardy takes her 10-year-old son Ryan to the skate park several times a week.

“When he first started he was skating hours a day, sometimes three times a week,” Ahardy said. “He met a lot of kids of all ages and everyone was really welcoming even when he was really little.”

Providing a free recreational facility is important to local kids, she said.

“It can eat up your whole day. I’m sure it helps keeps kids out of trouble, too.”

The current conceptual designs are available to view at http://www.leesburgva.org .

Spohn Ranch, the design firm contracted by the Town of Leesburg for the expansion, has been around since the early 1990s. Founder Aaron Spohn is hailed as the “pioneer of the modern municipal skatepark” and created mainstream interest in the sport when he partnered with ESPN to create the X-Games. They are responsible for other local skate parks in Reston and Annandale.

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