Since 2018, Freedom Skate Park has offered a free winter skateboarding program for the youths of the Trenton community from November to February of each year. By providing a safe place for learning new skills and engaging creative thinking, the Freedom Skate Park winter skateboarding program has improved the physical and emotional health of many at-risks teens in Trenton.

This year, under current COVID-19 restrictions, Freedom has had to adapt their seasonal operation to coincide with the city’s new health regulations.

“We’ve implemented a really broad COVID safety plan that goes above and beyond what the legal requirements for our programs are,” said Jake McNichol, Freedom’s Founder and Executive Director. “It hasn’t been easy, but we’re figuring it out, just like everybody else.”

According to McNichol, Freedom’s top priority is to provide a healthy environment for all skaters in the area. That is why this year, Freedom has worked with a lawyer to create a COVID-19 Safety Plan, which outlines the organization’s new regulations. Those visiting the park must abide by them.

“The biggest change from our previous events is that in order to make sure there’s plenty of room for everybody to have their social distance, we’ve capped attendance at 25 people at any one time in the park,” said McNichol.

Compared to other businesses and organizations, 25 people in a building may seem like a lot in one room during the time of a pandemic. However, with a park spanning roughly 6,000 square feet in length, 25 people is a mere fraction of what the building’s available capacity is and it is a highly reduced number of bodies per session compared to prior years.

Teens skating with masks during the winter skateboarding program. Photos Provided By: Rich Whitehead

With limited capacity, and the same, if not more, skaters wanting to participate in the winter skateboarding sessions this year, Freedom had to devise a way to cater to everyone eager to take part in the program. “In order to accommodate that, and make sure everyone who wants to skate has an opportunity to, we’ve divided up our public sessions, which are from noon to six on Saturdays, into six, one hour blocks,” said McNichol. “Folks have the option to sign up to reserve a spot online.”

For those with unreliable internet access, Freedom has also made sure to leave five walk-in spots open at all time. This way, there is a fair opportunity for all skaters to join the Freedom Skate Park winter fun.

Having six, one hour sessions each Saturday gives up to 150 skaters a week the ability to partake in the winter skateboarding sessions. With the option available every Saturday, Freedom can skate with around 600 teens a month.

Seeing this many different people in one facility, however, calls for tighter protocols than just the new socially distant operation. On top of the constant use of a mask, Freedom is also doing wellness screenings before skaters enter the building.

“Everyone who comes during those sessions signs a form that says that they haven’t had any symptoms of COVID,” said McNichol. “We check their temperature when they enter and we also get a phone number for their household, so that if anyone who’s at the park at the same time they are, does later end up testing positive for COVID, we can notify everyone who’s been at the park at the same time as them that they should go get a test and maybe want to quarantine for a week or so until they get those results.”

He continued, “In between every session, we have everyone leave the park and wait outside until we bring in the next group for the next session. What that does is it ensures that there’s not overlap between different members who are there at different times so that everybody is distinct, and it helps us with the contact tracing.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect all elements of our day to day lives, McNichol’s and his volunteer team are working hard to ensure skaters in the City of Trenton still have the opportunity to stay involved in the community bonding experience of skateboarding.

“There is a growing and enthusiastic skate community here in Trenton and having a place where skaters of all ages, of all backgrounds [and] all skill levels can come together, to not just be able to practice skateboarding, but also to meet people who are also into skateboarding, build this sense of community and feel part of something positive and valuable in the City of Trenton, is really important, both for the individuals, the kids and young adults who come to our park, and also for the city as a whole,” said McNichol. “I just hope people see that and understand that skateboarding is about a lot more than just the act of riding a skateboard. It’s really about giving kids experiences thinking creatively, setting goals for themselves and then working hard and achieving those goals. It’s about giving teenagers and young adults opportunities to be mentors and take on leadership positions for younger people in their communities.”