JANUARY 14, 2010

Under the “No Skateboarding” sign at Orofino City Park stand four Orofino kids who love skateboarding and biking among other outdoor activities. On the left is Cannon Wyman, a 12 year old from Orofino Junior High School who wrote the original Letter to the Editor to the Clearwater Tribune which got the ball rolling on an interesting discussion of where, exactly are kids supposed to have fun. Behind her, on the right, is Mitchell Dollemore (12) from OJHS. In front is Kaleob Ross (12), also of OJHS. On the far right is Silas Hull (17) who attends Orofino High School. He attended the meetings at Orofino City Council during the discussions prohibiting skateboarding in the park system. These bright young people want to be able to enjoy their sports and want people to know they are respectful of park property.

A little story about it all

By Ron Hanes

Part 2

On Sept. 8, 2009, the Orofino City Council voted unanimously to pass Resolution No. 761 which essentially outlaws the use of skateboards or scooters in any park, or on any sidewalk, anywhere within the city limits of Orofino. The title is derived from the request in the form of a letter-to-the-editor from a seventh grade student, Cannon Wyman, to have a little closer look at the situation. Part1 (published in last weeks Clearwater Tribune) attempted to address Cannon’s concerns. Questions still seem to outnumber answers so why not continue with “A Little Story about it All.”

   In Beaumont, the seven-member City Council meets every other Thursday. In Orofino, they meet every other Tuesday. You probably don’t recognize the town’s name, Beaumont, but it was the fictional community in the old movie starring Kevin Bacon.

   However cloudy our recollections of the 70’s, those of us who are old enough probably remember that it was in “Footloose” where the puritanical City Council outlawed dancing in their town because it was “too suggestive.” There are probably a lot of other differences between Beaumont and Orofino besides what evenings their City Councils meet. But, with the current mood resulting from the passage of Ordinance No. 761 (the city-wide ban on skateboarding), you would have a tough time convincing Orofino’s youth of that right now.

   When it comes to skateboarding, I didn’t know the difference between street style and shredding, or an ollie from a back-sidecar, so I did a little investigating. I looked at skate parks from Boise to Priest River plus a couple in neighboring Washington. As with swimming pools, almost every town has one. It was cause for envy when I saw what the prosperous Boise-Eagle area was able to afford for its youth. It’s somewhere beyond frustrating when Priest River, with a population of 1850 people can fund a successful skate park (now 8-years-old) without grants or donated labor. I spoke with mayors, city council members, city clerks, maintenance staff, and most important, the users of these facilities.

What’s a skate park?

   Skate parks can be designed exclusively for skateboards or for both bikes and skateboards. Location is the key to having a good skate park as you can create a worse problem than you had if this gets overlooked. Skate parks should always be designed and built by the pros. Local contractors often provide the flat work, but the features and jumps require the help of specialists.

   The popular skate parks today are in pits with sloped sides and rounded corners. Often more than one pit exists and this serves to separate users according to their skill levels. Skate parks require very little management and very little maintenance if they are built right and properly sited.

   Skate parks should always be located far away from where grandmas take their grandkids to swing. Skate parks, again, as long as they are properly constructed, do not create any unusual liability issues. The cost to have a skate park of a suitable size built in Orofino would be about $200,000. Every one of the dozen skate parks I visited, or inquired about, was located on city property (usually in city parks) and maintained by the city.

Irresponsible, who me?

   Orofino’s skateboarders want the City to build them a skate park. The Orofino City Council wants to see an organized group like baseball or soccer parents before they’ll work with them. Neither is going to happen unless a lot of other things happen first.

   Lynn Moss, a former grant administrator and current Department of Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Lewiston, assured me this scenario has been played out hundreds of times and feels a little education needs to take place. Lynn is pretty direct in his comments so let’s turn up the heat a little and listen to what he had to say:

   “Skateboarding is the fastest growing sport in America. It is enormously popular and if you build it, they will come, provided it is done right. The need for a skate park in your community is obvious. To ignore that need is irresponsible, not only for the city council, but the community as a whole.”

   (Ouch!) I swallowed and he continued, “On the other hand, if a group of kids and parents come to me seeking recreational opportunities such as a skate park, I won’t recommend spending a dime until we absolutely know this is what they want. They must be organized and be able to show that the facility they want has been well researched and that it will be what they require for a long time.”

   “It requires a lot more than showing up at a few meetings and then complaining when they don’t get what they want. It is city government’s responsibility, however, to create an atmosphere where this can all take place and sometimes it is necessary to provide the group some help with organizing through mentoring or volunteers who have experience in civics.”

Here’s what happened

   Here’s what has happened in Lewiston over the past 8 years: The process started when skaters didn’t get much of a response when they requested the city build them a new skate park. The group, consisting of mostly young people, formed Valley Skateboard Association and elected officers and laid out a business plan. Moss continued, “They just wouldn’t go away, and their Association President, Dan Prasil, just continued to ask lots of pointed questions about government processes.  He and I started looking at available city property and park locations and their individual purposes and intents for use. Dan brought me lots of skate articles, designs and we had good conversations about the skate community’s needs and desires.”

   They eventually worked out the preferred location, scope, and financing of the project…not without some help, of course.

   Former State Senator Mike Mitchell, as a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, is a liaison between the Skate Association and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Prasil, an avid skater, father of three, and employee of Idaho Beverages, was also eventually appointed to the commission to serve as the voice of the “younger generation” in the community. Together, a site (Kiwanis Park) and the funding mechanism was developed and presented to the City Council who agreed with the concept and placed it in the City’s five-year strategic plan.

“And, away we go”

   According to Moss, “the City’s participation is absolutely necessary at this point in order to apply for and receive grants. (Pass–through they call it.)”

   Here’s a breakdown of the funding for the City of Lewiston skate park:

*$166,000 Federal Land and Water Conservation Grant

*$30,000 City participation (tax dollars)

*$14,000 from Skate Association events

*$10,000 Idaho Beverage (donation)

*$80,000 from the sale of land

*$70,000 from donations

*$370,000 Total cost

   The total cost of Lewiston’s skate park is estimated to be $370,000.  $220,000 was raised through a combination of grants, city funding, Association events (baked food sales, skate competitions, etc.), and a corporate donation. This is where the process got real interesting. Obviously there was still $150,000 needed to build the skate park. The Association was faced with a problem and it was their job to come up with a solution.

Here’s what else happened

   With the greatly increased popularity of the sport of skate boarding and its acceptance as a mainstream sport, there came a lot of changes. Equipment improved, techniques advanced, and soon every skate park in the country was outdated. Lewiston has a skate park on “D” Street that was built in 1980 and, according to the experts (the kids) it is passé. So, the experts said, “Why not sell it and use that money to help fund the new park at Kiwanis Park.”

   And, that is exactly what the City did (with the Kiwanis Club’s blessing, of course) for $80,000, and Mike and Dan have hit the streets to raise the $70,000 balance in business and personal donations.  They hope to have a professional design and construction firm selected in the next couple months who will work with the Association before developing a final design. Construction should occur this summer. 

   Lynn Moss added, “The needs of your community are not being met. It is obvious something needed to happen. The City (Orofino) had to protect the tax payer’s property and do something (referring to Orofino Ordinance No. 761). It sounds like the problem has been ignored for so long that the ordinance had to be passed. Protecting infrastructure comes first and foremost. A lot wider community involvement will get the process of filling those needs started. It is going to take some work, but everybody will be a whole lot happier.”

   Lynn asked some questions about our other recreational opportunities in Orofino: “How old is your swimming pool?” When I told him we don’t have a swimming pool, there was a long pause…and then he ended our conversation with this, “Good luck!”

   When it came to dancing, Kevin Bacon wooed the preacher’s daughter, and the preacher, right along with the rest of the seven-member Beaumont City Council.  In the last scene in “Footloose”, everyone is shakin’ it up to a tune that serves to dredge one of my memories from the 70’s, some of the music really stunk!

   We probably won’t see the Orofino City Council members doing any ollies or back-sidecars as they shred off into the sunset when this one ends. But, surely there are a lot of happier endings we might write before settling for the one we have now.

   Clearwater County Prosecutor Clayne Tyler issued this statement, “Juvenile crime has escalated significantly in the last several years with nearly 150 juvenile petitions filed in 2009 as compared to approximately 100 cases in 2008. This reflects a 50% increase over the prior year. The juvenile docket is growing faster than the justice system can deal with it. Providing more positive outlets for the kids certainly can’t hurt.”

Did somebody say swimming pool?

   How can one discuss building a skate park in Orofino when we don’t even have a swimming pool, which in itself seems like a distant dream? Is time running out to build a pool? How can we think about spending the money to build anything with the economy as bad as it is? On the other hand, there may be some unique opportunities arising out of this slowed-down economy that could make it possible to get some things done that might have been done a long time ago.

   There will be more on this discussion in the next article, and the remarkable couple who donated the property to the community will remind us of what their dreams and expectations were.