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Hundreds Help City Skatepark Reopen

  • Mikey Sheehan, of Northfield, N.H., works out at the newly-opened Rusty Berrings Skatepark in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 24, 2016. After driving an hour and forty minutes to be part of the grand opening, Sheehan was planning to return the next day. "It's brand new and amazing," he said. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Tyler Kirschner, who had the skateboarding name Rusty Berrings, in an undated family photograph. The newly opened skatepark in West Lebanon, N.H., is named in his honor. (Family photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, September 24, 2016

Lebanon — If only Tyler Kirschner had lived to see this: Hundreds of friends and strangers, ranging from toddlers wobbling on tiny bicycles to scruffy men hurtling by on skateboards, all there Saturday afternoon in service of a dream that Kirschner himself started with a ragtag group of high school friends and skateboarding enthusiasts last year.

The event marked the reopening of the skatepark at Riverside Park on Glen Road under its new name, Rusty Berrings Skatepark , in honor of the skateboarding nickname of Kirschner, who suffered from mental illness and died last November at the age of 28.

It was a picture-perfect September afternoon, just a couple of dead leaves drifting onto a long ramp leading into a pit studded with sloped concrete structures, atop which skateboarders might pause for a moment or two to chat before attempting their next trick.

Kirschner’s father, Buddy Kirschner, and his older brother, Seth Kirschner, were standing next to the large speakers flanking a pair of folding tables where visitors could pick up a slice of pizza, a bottle of water, or a large sticker in the shape of a skateboard wheel that directed readers to remember Rusty Berrings on his Facebook page.

Less than half of the skatepark has been renovated with the new concrete structures, at a cost of $75,000 that has been raised by Kirschner’s family since his death. They’re trying to raise $200,000 more to replace the rest of the park’s features, which are made of rusting metal and weathered wood.

Buddy Kirschner reminisced about his son, who took up skateboarding at the age of 8.

“He liked to live a little on the edge,” Kirschner said.

The skatepark, formerly known as the Lebanon Skatepark, was a special place for the sometimes-troubled Kirschner, said his father.

“It was a safe haven,” he said.

“It was an outlet for him,” Seth Kirschner said of his younger brother’s passion for skateboarding. “There was no escape for his illness. But being here occupied his mind.”

He said Kirschner was drawn to a variety of countercultural activities — skateboarding, punk music, making jewelry and spray-painting graffiti on bridges — because he found in them a sense of honesty and reality that he did not see in mainstream institutions such as government and organized sports at Hanover High School.

The appeal of skateboarding was on full display on Saturday, the hypnotic, rasping hum of dozens of wheels against the pavement, the unique tone of each board interrupted by an instant of suspenseful silence, followed by the sharp impact of the board when it came crashing back against the concrete.

Kirschner not only used his knack for hands-on projects to modify his skateboards, but he also wasn’t afraid to build small ramps in his backyard to improvise new trick, coming back from The Home Depot with orange buckets and bags of dry cement mix.

Buddy Kirschner pointed out a long-haired skater in sunglasses above a rough stubble, gliding with unusual speed up and down concrete ramps in a reddish T-shirt that read “Peace Coast Skateboards.”

“Jon was a really good friend of Tyler’s,” he said.

A few minute later, Jon Hough, 29, sweaty from his excursions on the ramps, stood with Willie Johnson, also 29, while the two talked about their friend.

Johnson, who is not a skateboarder, remembered Kirschner as “a gentle soul,” who enjoyed things like video games and comic books, music, and running around in the woods.

“He told me skateboarding saved his life,” said Hough. “He was always here at the park, making up tricks, being creative.”

He said Kirschner encouraged him when he founded his own skateboarding company, Dex Skateboards.

“He’s the only person that I know of that has Dex tattooed on him,” he said.

Hough said that he and Kirschner were both worried by what they saw as a decline in the size of the local skateboarding community, which they linked to the rise in popularity of Facebook and other social media sites.

So they started a Facebook page that encouraged skateboarding, and began spending even more time at the park, encouraging young people when they showed up.

Last year, they decided that the city-owned skatepark could stand some improvement, so they recruited some friends who spent an industrious weekend building two low, long walls that could be used for tricks. They lugged in bags of cement and mixed it with gallon containers of water from the nearby Mascoma River, using salvaged chain-link fence for rebar.

The Lebanon Parks and Recreation Department stepped in, said Hough, and told them they couldn’t keep adding features at their own discretion. But that touched off a conversation that turned into a community partnership.

The city agreed to spend $8,000 on park improvements, and the skateboarders began actively planning to do even more.

Hough and Kirschner used a computer program to design a vision for a new skatepark, using feedback from the hundreds of area residents who had come to participate in their local skateboarding Facebook page.

“We’d sit on that wall we built,” Hough said, pointing, “and talk about rebuilding the park.”

They held a skateboarding event fundraiser last year, and gave $256 to the city toward their $275,000 designs.

It wasn’t much, Hough acknowledged. “It was the first drop, though.”

In the aftermath of Kirschner’s death, his family has taken up the campaign, with Buddy Kirschner using his connections as a concert promoter to hold more fundraisers, with the next planned for the Lebanon Opera House on Oct 12 and featuring the Dark Star Orchestra, a Grateful Dead tribute band.

“Hopefully we’ll raise a few thousand there,” said Kirschner.

Seth Kirschner said that, if his brother were still alive, he would have downplayed his pleasure at seeing the community working to bring his dream of a topnotch skatepark to fruition.

“He’d say, ‘It’s cool.’ He didn’t like to make a big deal out of anything. But in his heart, he would have been very happy.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.