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Board youths find new fun

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Jackson's newest playground is by far the most daring. And after one week since the unofficial opening, it's the most popular. On Tuesday afternoon just after school, the 50-foot by 90-foot concrete pad was buzzing like a busy, dysfunctional airport. Teenagers and preteens took two- and three-foot flights over silver rails and royal blue metal boxes and ramps, flipping and turning their landing gear with sometimes unfortunate consequences. One of every two landings was a crash. One unsuccessful pilot crashed nose first after his board failed to clear a narrow box.

But that's the nature of the sport.

Jake Scroggins sees progress after every failed attempt at a "kickflip burial," a trick that is much easier to work at the skate park, he said, than on the standard parking lot devices.

"I can almost do it here on the fly box," Scroggins said of his trick. The park "is better than what I thought it would be."

Another skateboarder, Josh Gholston, 17, said the park is welcome after years of being chased off various parking lots and having his board confiscated by police.

"It's pretty cool," Gholston said. "It actually gives us a place to skate, a place we can go without getting in trouble."

That was the purpose of the skate park, which was made possible thanks to donations totaling $60,000 by Jackson's two Optimist clubs.

Gholston was one of about 15 skaters using the new skate park off Route D and Symphony Drive Tuesday afternoon. He, like several other skaters, have used the park every day since the equipment was installed May 5.

A quick, unofficial survey of several skateboarders Tuesday found that the equipment, rails, boxes and ramps were all cool. There was only one complaint.

Perhaps it's too popular.

The park has been perhaps a bit overcrowded in the first week, some skateboarders said. Some of the younger skateboarders were getting in the way of the older, more experienced ones.

"It ain't fair," said Tyler Clark, 18.

But the park was designed with both the beginners and the more experienced skateboarders in mind, said parks director Shane West Anderson. The rules posted at the park say skateboarders over the age of 8 are allowed.

Anderson said he questioned whether different age groups would be able to mix.

"The information we gathered from other parks was that they learn to take turns," he said. "It's as simple as that."

Other problems have surfaced as well. There have been reports of bicycles using the equipment, which is against the rules. Police have had to chase the skateboarders off of the park after dusk, when the skate park is supposed to close.

And even though the posted rules say to use protective gear such as helmets, gloves, knee pads and wrist guards, none of the skateboarders using the park Tuesday were wearing such equipment.

Anderson said that is not a hard-and-fast rule because it is, like many skate parks, an unsupervised facility.

Despite the problems, the skateboarders, some who pay more than $100 for a board, are getting good use of the new facility. The obstacle course is also popular among some girls, most who don't skate, but like to watch their boyfriends.

And the parents seem to like it too.

"There seems to always be parents out here, and I like that," said Tammy Alexander, who was picking up her son from the park. "He comes whenever we let him. He's been up here about five times. They were skating in parking lots and I was afraid he would get in trouble for doing that. I feel good about this."

As popular as the new park appears to be, the original design was not well received by several skateboarders who attended a city council meeting and protested the design, saying they wanted a park like Farmington's instead of one with metal equipment. The skateboarders and some of their parents said they would raise money to build a better park, but so far the skateboarding community has not raised any money.

Shortly after the initial council meeting, the parks and recreation department set up a design committee that included many skateboarders. The committee tweaked the design somewhat, but the end result was similar to the design proposed by the parks and recreation department and the Optimist clubs.

Michael Seeley, 14, said he liked the park and was using it this week even with a brace strapped to his wrist.

"I fractured it skateboarding," said Seeley, who said he'll skate more now that the park gives him a place to do it.

But should he be out there skating with a fractured wrist?

"I ain't gonna let a little fractured wrist stop me," he said.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635


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