Feature Article - February 2009
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Grind Into Action

Getting Your Skatepark Rolling

By Sue Marquette Poremba

Like other public places in many cities, skateparks are not immune to vandalism. But Patnaude points out that vandalism can often be kept in check by making sure the youth who will be using the park are involved with its building process.

"The kids take ownership of the project when they are involved from the beginning, and they'll police themselves," he said. "They don't want their place damaged."

A well-maintained park is a safe park, and safety is always at the forefront of city leaders' thinking.

"Initially, a lot of cities were scared off at the idea of a skatepark because of the safety liability," Moss explained, but he added that it isn't that much different from having insurance to cover public pools or playgrounds.

Besides, Moss said, the people who frequent skateparks know that injuries are part of the learning experience. "A broken arm can be a badge of honor," Moss said. "They also know that if they complain that they were hurt at the park, it will be shut down."

In Warsaw, Ind., anyone who shows up to use the public skatepark has to sign a waiver, according to activities director Jannelle Wilson. "You only have to sign the waiver once, but we keep track of who is using the park, and you have to have that waiver on file," she said, adding that the park is monitored.

"It is a supervised park," she said. "We make sure the rules are followed," which provides a better and safer atmosphere for all.

Wilson said the skatepark in Warsaw was originally a wood construction in operation since 1996 and now, thanks to a grant, is going through phases to replace the wood with steel. However, she said the park is strictly for skateboards and inline skates only.

"Our next task is to see how much interest is in a BMX bike park," she said, "but this park's layout is more friendly for skaters."

In Shelbyville, Dial said the park is open to both skaters and bikes. "It was built that way," Dial said, and the equipment is geared to accommodate skateboards, skates and bikes.

That's probably a wise move, Moss said. "You can't keep BMXers off the skateparks," he explained, but he does admit that bikers do have different needs. "Obstacles are taller in a BMX park, and they need more space," he added.

Bikers also move faster than the skateboards and wear on the equipment differently. However, few communities have the resources to create two different parks, so compromises need to be made. Some communities set separate times for bikes to use the facility; others make modifications to phase in bike-specific obstacles. The experts all agree that, if the city is going to allow bikes and skateboards to share the park, the bikers should be included in the planning stages, right along with the skaters.

Moss believes that we are seeing only the beginning of the popularity of skateparks. Skateboarding has evolved into a sport, and parents want their children to have a safe place to practice.

"Think of it this way," Moss said. "Years ago, it was unusual for a town to have a tennis court, and now every town has tennis courts. That's where skateparks are now. Few cities have one, but that's changing. Eventually, skateparks will be like tennis courts."