June 21, 2007 in Voices

Ramps and rails at Thiel Park

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

Becky Obernolte, left, and Ann Cowley lift a skating ramp as Jep Edwards attaches hardware at the Fairfield skate park.
(Full-size photo)

They’ll be doing the shuvit, the nosegrind and the ollie at Thiel Park today. The feeblegrind on the funbox, too.

The Fairfield skate park opens today after five years of lemonade stands, carwashes and community grants.

The little town will never be the same.

“We’ll be ready,” volunteer Jep Edwards said amid the whir of busy screw guns on Monday.

Volunteers worked through a rainy weekend assembling more than 6,000 parts that make up the skate park’s ramps and rails. Some parts still needed to be assembled late Monday afternoon, but the end was near.

Because the next-closest skate park is 25 miles away in Spokane Valley, Edwards and others imagine children from as far north as Freeman and as far southeast as Worley and Plummer, Idaho, will go to Fairfield to skate.

The skate park was envisioned in 2002 to give Fairfield youths a place to congregate and engage in sport.

At the time, skate parks were popping up like dandelions in such communities as Pullman, Moscow and Colfax, sometimes replacing aging facilities for other sports that were declining in popularity. Everywhere that skate parks have opened, they’ve been popular.

“Off the top of my head, parks have opened in Newport, Colville, Fairfield, Medical Lake, Kettle Falls and Deer Park,” said Todd Bearden of Spirit Skate Shop in Spokane. “Moses Lake had one before we did. Post Falls has one.

“Two more have opened in Spokane since they built the one under the freeway – the one in Hillyard and the one at the YMCA,” he continued.

“There’s one in Cusick. I know – I thought they’d open a gun range but not a skate park,” Bearden said. “I guess the one in Kettle Falls is just wicked, too.”

A lot of team sports are dying, Bearden said, and skateboarding – without coaches, without the push toward competition, without practice times – is rising in popularity.

Spirit Skate Shop will be on hand with its own boarders for the opening of the Fairfield park today. Spirit Skate Shop plans to offer demonstrations and skating tips for four hours beginning at 4 p.m.

Volunteers say they expect the park will draw from a student population of about 1,400 children from both the Freeman and Liberty school districts. And roughly a half-dozen towns submitted letters of support for the skate park when Fairfield organizers were lobbying the city for approval.

Building a skate park in a town of 600 people, a town with limited resources, was no small task, said Ann Cowley, an organizer for the Fairfield park.

The group started with a few modest donations but quickly realized that to be successful, it needed donations from outside the community.

Edwards started surfing the Internet for possible skateboard park grants, not knowing what to expect.

The group landed a small grant from the Tony Hawk Foundation. Tony Hawk is a skateboarding legend. His foundation promotes construction of public skate parks in towns across the United States, offering grants as well as a free “how-to” book for grass-roots skate-park groups at its Web site, www.tonyhawk foundation.org/.

Cowley, who handled the money for the Fairfield project, said that while grants were available, there also were a considerable number of applicants. For every 10 grants the Fairfield group applied for, Cowley said, only one would result in funding.

Organizers applied for any money they thought even remotely was intended for skate-park construction. At one point, they applied for a Hometown Helper grant offered by the makers of Hamburger Helper. They didn’t get the money.

The lesson Cowley learned from grant-writing was that an organization shouldn’t be too specific in its stated purpose; a community park grant, for example, might be available when one specifically for skate parks is not.

Another lesson was that groups offering grants for specific purposes may modify what their grants can be used for after receiving applications for projects they hadn’t considered. More than once, Fairfield skate-park organizers were contacted by grant sources that originally had rejected Fairfield’s request but later made skate parks eligible for funding.

The Fairfield park got a big push toward the finish line recently when it received a $5,000 grant from The Home Depot and KaBoom!, a charitable organization promoting play spaces within walking distance of every community in the country.

By the time that money came through, volunteers had raised $8,000 through community events such as cakewalks and raffles. Spokane County chipped in two park grants worth $25,000. And private donors such as Avista, Bank of Fairfield, AmericanWest Bank and the Rockford Lions Club chipped in another $10,000. Individual donors sweetened the pot with an additional $6,000.

Funding a skate park is money well-spent for a small town, said Connie Ellis of Colfax.

Five years ago, her children and others lobbied the Colfax Town Council for skate-park space. Colfax agreed to give the kids one dilapidated tennis court as a skate-park site.

Ellis said much of the town got behind the park, and volunteers managed to raise $60,000 in less than half a year.

But not everyone favored building a skate park, she said. Concerns about everything from graffiti to liability were aired. Ellis said she suspects people who didn’t support the park initially probably still don’t.

Accident liability is a common concern for towns considering a skate park, but most find the same insurance policy that covers injuries at the town soccer field or swimming pool also covers skate-park injuries.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which tracks emergency-room visits for sports injuries, reports that skateboarders were six times less likely than football players to be treated in an emergency room and eight times less likely than basketball players.

Graffiti has been painted at the skate park in Colfax, and on occasion, the town has locked the gate to the skate park because skaters weren’t picking up their garbage. But the same concerns about vandalism and worries about a rough crowd could be applied to the city pool or the town’s baseball diamond, both of which have been vandalized in recent years.

As Colfax organizers anticipated, the park has proved to be a huge draw, not only for local children but also for skaters from as far as Moscow.

Ellis’ children have moved on to other sports, but she still supports the skate park. The change to the community overall, she says, was a good one.


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