Feature Article - February 2007
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Ramp It Up

New-generation skateparks appeals to skaters young and old

By Emily Tipping

Make it safe

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission claims that more than 25,000 people are treated in emergency rooms annually with skateboard-related injuries. Most common are sprains, fractures, contusions and abrasions. Things like a lack of protective gear such as helmets and pads, poor board maintenance and irregular riding surfaces account for most of these accidents.

You'll need to decide early on about the kinds of safety rules you'll want for your skatepark. Talking with insurance carriers and attorneys—as well as other cities that already have skateparks—can help you determine what rules to establish. Signage throughout the park can help you get the message across.

Thompson said that while it's important to listen to your constituents, you also need them to listen to you. Let them know about the rules and regulations during the planning process, and restate those rules often so there are no surprises once the park is open.

"We had an issue where for months prior to the opening, we said that if there was vandalism or anything like that, we would close the park down to deal with it," he said. "We were tested: There was some graffiti a month in."

They closed the skatepark down, called the manufacturer and found out what product to use to remove the graffiti so they wouldn't damage the surface. In three days, the park was back in operation.

"At that time, we thought those were going to be the last good days of skating weather—60 degrees, bright and sunny—and we knew inclement weather was predicted over the next week," Thompson said. "We had some unhappy skaters, but the majority of them understood what we had been talking about."

Thanks to good police work, the graffiti artist was caught. During his interrogation, he told the police that his friends were mad at him, and that he didn't believe they would close the skatepark for what he had done.

The local television station, in its question of the night, asked local residents if they thought the city should have closed down the skatepark for graffiti, and people said yes. "We have not had another incident in the next three months," Thompson said. "So when you do set your rules, stick to your guns."

Skaters are required to wear helmets in Paducah, due to an ordinance recommended by the Kentucky League of Cities. One benefit of the helmet ordinance is that it gives the police a reason to go into the park to make sure safety concerns are addressed.

In 2006, 45 youth were killed skateboarding in the United States—mostly due to collision with motor vehicles. So remember that when kids are in your skatepark, they're probably a lot safer than if they were out skating the streets. Skateboarding is a physically challenging sport, and by providing a place for local skaters to try out their skills, you're likely preventing injuries.