A skater who identified himself as Sean skating at the park last week. Photo: Quint Nigro

Family and friends of the late Wesley Dean Ackley are ramping up fundraising to completely renovate the skate park named in his memory at Stotzky Park. Wesley’s friends and family see these renovations as a way to continue his lifelong advocacy for Riverhead’s skate park. 

The organizers have already raised more than $15,000 in small donations through GoFundMe from members of the Riverhead and skating community — and are planning a skate contest next month to fundraise even more. 

The fundraising target is $200,000, based on an estimate received by Wesley’s lifelong friend Chris Patti from a professional skate park design firm.  

Patti said he knows $200,000 is a big ask from small donors, which is why he’s organizing the first fundraising event for the renovation. Set for Oct. 21, the event will include a raffle and skate contest.

Evergreen Skateparks, of Portland, Oregon estimated the cost of the renovation to be least $150,000, he said.

“We want to try to overshoot it,” Patti said.

Patti said that the GoFundMe page, which has pulled in over $15,000, proves there is a strong interest from community members. Next month’s skate competition will be sponsored by many Riverhead businesses and companies involved in the skateboarding scene. They have donated prizes including gift cards, memberships and products.

Participants can purchase commemorative merchandise, including shirts and bracelets, which will also earn them a chance to win prizes in a raffle. Raffle tickets can also be purchased separately. Both can be purchased at the Oct. 21 competition at the skate park.

A poster showing Wes Ackley skating is displayed on a wall at the skate park named in his memory. Photo: Quint Nigro

The Wesley Dean Ackley Skate Park was dedicated in Ackley’s memory earlier this year, to honor his efforts to keep the skate park open and accessible. 

MORE COVERAGE: Stotzky skate park named for Wesley Dean Ackley, who changed its future more than a decade ago

“At a very young age, he decided to get involved with advocating for the park,” Wesley’s mother Christine Ackley said in a phone interview.

Wesley first made his mark on Riverhead in 2010 when, at the age of 14, he wrote a letter to the Town Board. In his letter, he politely requested that it not increase the fees to use the park, saying that the park kept kids safe and out of the streets. 

“I encouraged him,” Ackley said. “I said, ‘if you write a letter, maybe it’ll get some attention.’” The board agreed with his arguments, which he read at a Town Board meeting, and eventually ended the use fee altogether. 

The resolution that Wesley protested was never passed.

“You know, sometimes you get good results,” his mom said.

Ackley said her son was always on his skateboard and at the park. Either she was driving him and Patti to the skate park, or Patti’s mother was the boys’ chauffeur. Some parents spend their time “going to the soccer field and football field, we went to the skate park,” she said.

“He was just a very, very courteous kid,” Riverhead Parks and Recreation Superintendent Raymond Coyne said last week. “Respectful, and kind of opened [the Town Board’s] eyes to see what it’s like from a skater’s point of view.”

“Wesley went about it the right way,” Coyne said. 

Patti said that Wesley’s advocacy led to a “golden era” for the park. “It was just such an inspiring story,” he said.

But life was not easy on Wesley. Shortly after college, he was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer. Treatments limited his ability to skate, and according to Patti, he had to learn how to skate all over again.

“When he was going through his treatments, and when he wasn’t feeling good, he would still go [to the skate park],” Ackley said. “He still wanted to be in the environment, watching his friends.”

“Even when he was sick with cancer, he did all he could to make sure he was still able to skateboard,” Patti said. “He was able to do things that the doctor said he wouldn’t be able to do, and at certain points he was beating me,” he said.

Ackley died in January, following his years-long battle with cancer. 

“This is all in honor of Wes,” Patti said.

Aging park features and expensive maintenance led to a physical decline of the park in the last few years. It was closed for repairs in 2015 and 2016, and when it finally reopened, a skater-favorite obstacle — the spine, two short ramps that meet each other at their high point — had been removed.

Despite the park’s limitations, skaters still flock to the park to practice their craft. Even on a recent brutally hot summer day, skaters of all ages and skill levels were at the park.

One skater, who identified himself as Sean, said that if he could bring back one thing to the park, it would be the spine. “I felt like it kind of tied Riverhead together back in the day,” he said. He praised how easy it was to learn tricks on, and said it was great for people of all skill levels.

This sentiment was echoed by Patti, who stressed how important it is that the park accommodate people of any skill. “We’re going to do an updated version [of the park] where it’s more accessible,” he said.

“That works in both directions,” Patti said of park accessibility. “I have a hip problem, something like [curbs and spines] would be beneficial both to young children and people in their 40s and 50s,” he said.

Patti and Ackley talked about what renovations to the skate park might look like.

“One of Wes’ favorite skate spots here in New York was the Brooklyn Banks,” Patti said. Brooklyn Banks is a historic skate park, and in addition to being one of the first skate parks in the United States, it has many iconic park features. 

“We should definitely add something in there that is Brooklyn Banks-inspired at some part of the park,” Patti said.

Patti said that an ideal renovation for the skate park would include ramps made entirely of cement, as well as wedges (short ramps with a sheer drop at the end), obstacles imitating other famous skate features, quarter pipes (a ramp with a platform at the top), spines and curbs (short edges, like a street curb).

“Whatever his vision is… I think he’ll be right on,” Ackley said. “It’ll be exactly what Wes envisioned.”

The good news for Riverhead skaters is that, even without the fundraiser, the sought-after spine is coming back to the Wesley Dean Ackley Skate Park. Coyne said that a new spine is only waiting on a transfer of funds, and should be ready by spring of 2024. Coyne acknowledged that removing the spine was an unpopular decision. “I spoke with many of the skaters,” he said, “that’s the one they did not want [removed].”

When asked what the town parks department would do with a $200,000 donation for the park Coyne said he would assemble a committee of the skate park’s most frequent visitors, and design a new park by consensus. A skate park that well-funded would be “probably the best on Long Island,” Coyne said.

Issues with the cost of maintaining the skate park have been at the core of many of its past closures and reductions. Coyne said that “anything that goes into our parks, we’ll be prepared to maintain.” He said that usage of the right materials can reduce both the financial cost and work needed to maintain the park.

Patti said that using poured concrete features could significantly reduce the cost of maintenance as well.

To Patti, renovating the Wesley Dean Ackley Skate Park is not just a way to honor his friend, but to encourage Riverhead’s skating community to grow. The renovations are “mainly for the kids, it’s all for the future of children of Riverhead and for the generations to come,” Patti said.

Ackley and Patti both thanked Patrick Faron, who they said has been a major help in organizing the fundraiser.

“Skateboarding has given me everything in life that I cherish,” Patti said. “I want to be able to give back to it now.”

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Quint Nigro was born and raised in Riverhead, and is a 2023 graduate from College of the Atlantic. His background is in journalism and political science. When he isn't writing for work, he's writing for fun.