Spills and thrills: Jackson's new skatepark popular at all hours

Sunday, February 19, 2006
Ashley Stein of Jackson rode a skateboard down a ramp at the Jackson Skate Park. (Fred Lynch)

It took five years of planning and designing and building before Jackson's skateboarders had a place they could call their own. Last June that place opened in the northern section of Jackson's City Park.

A grand opening welcomed skateboarders to the $56,000 park on June 5. The skatepark features a couple of ramps and an island with rails, stairs and a drop.

Funding for the park primarily came from Jackson's two Optimist clubs, which donated $30,000 apiece. Jackson High School's Family Career and Community Leaders of America group donated another $1,681.

Parks and recreation director Shane Anderson said the parks department and city officials began discussing the initial idea of a skatepark in 2000.

"We knew there was a high interest in skateboarding and inline skating in the area," he said. "That's what really propelled the interest in it to begin with."

Skateboarders waited to try the new ramp at the Jackson Skate Park. (Fred Lynch)

But it took several years before funding was secured and skaters were happy with a design.

When the original design was first introduced at a city council meeting in spring 2004, skateboarders at the meeting objected to the plan. They said the proposed park wouldn't hold their interest for very long. The initial complaint about the design was that the Optimists planned to use steel modular obstacles on an 80-foot-by-50-foot concrete slab instead of building a concrete course.

Jackson officials then created a skateboard park committee which included as many as 25 local skateboarders. With the skateboarders involved to provide input on a new plan for a park, they soon discovered a concrete park wasn't feasible. Over the course of 10 meetings during the summer the skateboarders modified the plans, selected specific equipment and the location of the obstacles.

On opening day, about 100 people showed up at the new skatepark. Demonstrations were held on the ramps and free helmets were offered from a program sponsored by Saint Francis Medical Center. ThinkFirst is a program that promotes helmet usage.

At the grand opening, Optimist Club member Steve Sebaugh told the crowd the club "envisions this park as a beginning, not an end. We challenge other organizations and skaters to add more pieces and keep this going just like baseball and soccer."

Anderson said the new skate park is a nice addition to City Park.

"We have a lot of team-oriented sports. This is more of an individual activity," Anderson said. "We view this park as a complement to our team sport fields. It's nice to have a balance."

Anderson said skaters are using the park morning, noon and night. Only a few minor injuries have been reported.

Andy Hente of Jackson is one skater who received a minor injury at the skatepark a few months ago. He fractured his kneecap while skating.

"I was going about four times a week before I got hurt," Hente said. He hopes to start skating again once temperatures warm up.

Hente said the Jackson skatepark is 100 percent better than Cape Girardeau's, which was built several years ago on two seldom-used tennis courts in Missouri Park.

"Cape's park is for learning," Hente said. "Jackson's is more raw and has better terrain. It also has a good choice of ramps at it."

The ramps at Jackson's parks are about 18 to 20 feet wide, while Cape Girardeau's skatepark ramps are only about 4 feet wide. Hente said the Jackson ramps are much safer for turns.

While he wishes the two cities would combine funding and create a skatepark like the 25,000-square-foot park in Farmington, Mo., where skateboarders, inline skaters and BMX bike riders are welcome, he isn't complaining.

"If it's dry and sunny, the Jackson skatepark is always crowded," Hente said.

An estimated 25 million skaters are in the United States. Skateboarding has become an increasingly popular sport for individuals of all ages.

"There is a very high interest in skateboarding in this area," Anderson said. "Kids seem really pleased with the finished product."


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