Snow fencing, signage, and a traffic barrier indicate that Isaac Riehl Skatepark is closed as part of the Province's COVID restrictions. DON RICKERS

Seriously, dudes, the park is closed

It’s time to chill at the Isaac Riehl Skatepark, located at Marlene Stewart Streit Park in downtown Fonthill.

A worrisome rise in COVID-19 cases prompted the Ontario government to issue a declaration of emergency and province-wide stay-at-home order, effective April 8. It is still in place. The coronavirus and its variants are spreading among unvaccinated populations, and a growing number of younger people have been infected—the majority of new infections are now among those aged 39 and younger, with 584 currently active cases in Niagara in teens and children, as of this writing.

The Town of Pelham has closed most recreational facilities, including the outdoor skatepark, but that hasn’t stopped hardcore boarders from climbing over the temporary fencing to practise their kickflips. Those who ignore the signage declaring the park closed risk fines of $750 per person.

“We started out putting signage up, and [the skateboarders] just ripped it down,” said Fire Chief Bob Lymburner. “Orange road closure barriers were set up, and we’ve added snow fence and more signage.”

No lawbreaking skateboarders have yet been apprehended, said Lymburner, because they tend to scatter when the authorities arrive. Local bylaw and fire prevention officers are making more frequent visits to the skatepark, as are Niagara Regional Police patrols, he said.

“On a nice warm sunny day, [the boarders] will be out in droves. Our COVID new infection cases right now in Niagara are predominantly 20 to 39 year olds. The young people are still congregating, getting together to party…and they’re taking it home to their parents, who take it to work and give it to their co-workers. It seems that some kids just don’t care,” said Lymburner.

It’s not just kids, of course. Skateboarding draws from a wide demographic, and many adults enjoy the sport. But young people appear to be the core of the skateboarding transgressors, at least locally.

“Hopefully, the barriers up now will really get their attention, and they’ll smarten up a bit. If we make it difficult, they’ll eventually stop,” said Lymburner.

Though less likely to be hospitalized or die because of COVID-19, some young people develop severe and lasting symptoms, particularly if they are obese, diabetic, or have high blood pressure or hypertension. Many young adults work in health care, food and hospitality services, and other essential employment such as public transportation. These occupations are at high risk for exposure to the coronavirus, as are students attending college and university.

Since young people are less likely to have severe cases of COVID-19, it appears that many have developed a false sense of security, and feel that mingling in large groups, attending parties, not wearing face masks, and ignoring community pandemic guidelines will not seriously endanger them. But medical experts insist that safe personal behaviors make an enormous difference. Mask-wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and self-monitoring for coronavirus symptoms are especially important for those living with vulnerable household members including the aged, chronically ill, and immune-compromised.