SPRING HILL — Ten years after a scooter accident took the life of his brother, Stewy, Anthony Abramowicz and his mother, Amber Costa, are fighting to save the skate park that was erected in Stewy's honor.
The struggle began when the Hernando County Commissioners announced recommendations to close several local parks to help solve the county's budget woes, including Stewy's Skate Park.
Supporters of the park plan to rally at Stewy's, 6799 Pinehurst Drive, at 4 p.m. today
Costa, 38, who has been central to the park's operations since it was merely an idea, wonders aloud why anyone would want to close the park. "What is it hurting?" she asked.
When her son died after being hit by a car while riding his scooter, she took up his quest for a skate park in Spring Hill. She helped raise half of the $250,000 needed to build the park and helped secure donated ramps. A monument to her son stands at the park reading, "Heaven is a half pipe."
She runs the park's concession stand and acts as a mother figure to the kids who visit, signing off on volunteer hours when they help clean up after-hours.
Costa has begun collecting petitions circulated by the park's young patrons. They are all filled with what Costa says are the 1,500 signatures of young skaters, parents and other kids who want the space to remain open.
Additionally, a "Save Stewy's SkatePark" page has popped up on Facebook, with 232 "likes" as of Thursday morning.
Sean Cunningham, 38, owns Streetstyle Skate Shop on Cortez Boulevard, and he hasn't skated since a knee injury ended his 25 years on a board. His kids, however, use the park frequently and he has been a vocal proponent for its existence.
"Skaters are going to skate," he said. He thinks skaters will scale the park's fences and skate anyway if it is closed. He knows that his business will be fine, but wants a safe place for his children to practice.
"Is it going to take another tragedy for them to re-open the park?" he asked.
His two sons skate there, as does his inline-skating daughter. Cunningham said he has seen kids grow and develop as skaters when he visits the park on Saturday mornings, sights he would miss if the park closed its gates for good.
His sons and other kids tool around at the shop sometimes. They say they learned to skate at Stewy's and would be sad to see the place go.
"It's something, instead of being in the streets," said Cunningham's 16-year-old son, Gage.
The sentiment is shared among the boys, including 13-year-old Ricky Mosedo. "That's the only place to go," he said.
All of the boys said they would continue to skate even if the park were closed, acknowledging they would risk getting into trouble for trespassing on private property such as shopping center parking lots.
County Commissioner John Druzbick said he doesn't want to see popular parks like Stewy's closed. He noted that plans to close the park are only preliminary recommendations.
"It's a process," he said. "I wish people would understand that."
Ron Pianta, the land services director for Hernando County, said the department was asked to make cuts to an already-strapped budget.
He noted that the recommendations made to the County Commission were not easy. He said the department considered the costs of operating various county facilities and the revenue they bring in, as well as the possible savings of closing them. Pianta said Stewy's brings in little revenue.
"These are very difficult decisions because we are down to the facilities that are more popular with the public," he said.
A possible means of keeping the park open would be for community members to help defray costs and help with maintenance, which he is considering.
Former County Commissioner Diane Rowden said she obtained a list of expenses related to Stewy's from Pianta totalling almost $40,000. Rowden said the numbers also show that Stewy's brings in $1,350 in revenue. Pianta could not be reached to confirm the numbers.
Costa said she is more than willing to help with maintenance.
"I'm not afraid to scrub a toilet if that's the issue," she said.
Abramowicz, 22, can't see a future without Stewy's. "Where there's a will, there's a way," he said. "They won't close the park."
He still skates, even bringing his board on a trip from his current home is Massachusetts. He said the park helps to keep kids out of trouble. He added that many friends from his days skating in Spring Hill have gone on to join the military or otherwise enter public service as the "next step" from their park-related activism.
Abramowicz recently took that next step himself and joined the Army. Before he leaves for boot camp, he said he will devote as much energy as necessary to keep the park open before he leaves.
"I'm really passionate about this place," he said. "It's what I have left."
Melvin Backman can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6114.