PHILIPSBURG — A group of teenagers is causing problems at Slabtown Park, residents say, and some concerned citizens came together during the April 19 borough council meeting to look for solutions.
“There is a group of 20 or so middle school kids who have basically taken it over as their stomping grounds. There are a lot of families in Philipsburg who won’t even go over there right now,” resident Jamie Wagner told The Gazette.
Wagner was one of a dozen community members at the meeting. She said smoking, profanity and lewd public acts are just a few of the behaviors displayed by the youths, making for an environment that is not family friendly.
“These are middle school to early high school kids, so you can ask them to tone it down and watch their language and they basically just curse you out,” Wagner said.
There was even a knife found in the sandbox, along with lighters, needles and beer cans, she said. Wagner lives two blocks away and can hear the youths at the park from her house as late as midnight, although the park is supposed to close at 9 p.m.
The group of concerned citizens would just like the park to be “the family park we know it is. … So we thought, ‘What can we do as citizens to try to make it a place my kids want to be?’”
Borough Manager Joel Watson said the issue is not new to the park, which the borough has worked to beautify over the past few years.
“It is the same old story,” Watson said. “We can go for a year or two and it dies down, but it is the same old story.”
Things started getting bad again at the park toward the end of last year, when there was vandalism at the construction site of the new restrooms for recreation area, he said. Then, over the holidays, at the nearby Cold Stream Dam, vandalism occurred to the toy soldiers surrounding the giant Santa statue. Later, he said, a bench in one of dugouts at the softball field was ripped out.
“So, we are talking destruction of property here,” said Watson. While there used to be more issues in the skate park area of the park, he said that area is kind of “self-policing,” so the issue is now throughout the park, where younger kids play and ballgames are held.
“A lot of parents bring their young children to the park and they are being exposed to this,” said Watson.
The borough understands the frustration and appreciates the members of the community who are looking for solutions, he said. After all, he said, it is his crew that is cleaning up the messes and repairing damaged items the borough is working to make nice for the whole community.
Watson said there are high-definition cameras “on everything” at the park, but it is difficult to pinpoint when these events occur, and the use of foul language will not show up on the camera.
Because the borough has no local police force, the park falls under the jurisdiction of the state police. Watson and Wagner said authorities have been conducting regular patrols of the park and will respond in a timely manner if there is a problem.
Despite concerns that arose when the Philipsburg barracks of the state police merged with the Rockview barracks, moving the nearest police unit all the way to Benner Township, Watson said police presence has remained high in the borough.
“There is actually more police presence than there used to be,” said Watson.
Eight citations were recently given for disorderly conduct at the park, he said, and new signs have been installed that read “No trespassing after 9 p.m.”
The public should call the police if they see people at the park after that time, he said.
“But the problem is, they just scatter and go somewhere else,” said Watson. He added that people should try to be cognizant of the timeframe a situation might occur, so authorities can go back to review the cameras.
Wagner said she appreciates the borough’s response. She said she doesn’t think people should be afraid to take their kids to the park, but it is probably a good idea to have adult supervision.
“We are going to try and have more outings at the park, or town events, to show that it is a family friendly place,” said Wagner.
Wagner is a teacher and said she understands what “teens go through,” and she said if they would be civil and use the park appropriately, it could be a positive resource.
“Maybe if they would have a sense of ownership and a sense of pride, maybe they would change, but this meeting was just the first step,” said Wagner.
She would be glad to hear of ideas from people on potential solutions.