Skateboarders trying to speed along building of skate park

Monday, April 1, 2002

Jarred Harris, 15, and Cole Buerkle, 14, are tired of getting told where they can't ride their skateboards.

In Cape Girardeau, that is just about everywhere.

So Harris and Buerkle are among a group of skateboarders trying to muster support to speed up the city's long-range plans of getting a skateboard park built.

They've printed flyers seeking support, and they hope to have a meeting soon with Parks and Recreation director Dan Muser.

"It's getting hard to skate around here," Harris said. "The cops are coming and picking you up and taking you to juvenile for trespassing."

Harris and Buerkle both said they don't want to cause any trouble, but, they say, their options have dwindled to next to nothing in the last couple of years. Police and property owners continuously run off skaters like Harris and Buerkle.

"They don't want us to skate or even be there," Buerkle said. "But where else, because everybody else is saying the same thing. We need a place to go, and we would stay there. The thing is, if we had a skate park in a part of town that we could go, then I think it would be a major solution."

That solution would come at a price. Considering all of the city's departments are experiencing serious budget problems, it is doubtful that a skate park could be built without funding from outside sources or a tax hike.

"When it comes down to it, it would be a nice thing for us to have, but it's always the usual funding issues," Muser said. "Right now, we're hoping to sit down with the group and see what the interest is."

Muser said the city has looked into the skate park idea extensively.

"We have gathered quite a bit of information over the last several months," he said. "There may be an impression that we're novices on the subject, and that's not necessarily true."

Safety concerns

Harris and Buerkle both believe that many times they are chased off of properties because of a stereotypical judgment of skateboarders. They say people automatically assume the worst when they see a youth with a skateboard. They claim they're no different than soccer players or baseball players; they're just as passionate about their sport.

But Cape Girardeau police Cpl. Rick Schmidt, who used to ride a skateboard when he was a youth, said that there are safety concerns at hand.

He pointed to the Town Plaza as an example.

He said skateboarders skate along the sidewalk under the awning at the plaza. Since the doors swing out, there is a possibility of a skater or bicyclist running into a door and possibly injuring a customer.

"And if a skateboarder goes through one of those glass doors, there's a chance for a serious injury, and that's extremely scary to think about," Schmidt said.

But Schmidt said he understands the skaters' position.

"They're caught between a rock and a hard spot," he said. "I've ridden a skateboard, and I know the dilemma. We have wrestled with this issue since I started here. I didn't have answer for them then, and I don't now."

Schmidt thinks the idea of building a skate park is a good one and said he "would love nothing more than having a place where skateboarding people could go to be safe away from traffic." But he is also aware of the financial restraints on the city's departments.

In addition to safety issues, property has been damaged by the skaters. Curbs and park picnic tables have been harmed as a result of repeated stunts.

Buerkle said none of this would happen if there was a park.

Schmidt said the kids, in general, aren't bad kids looking for trouble.

"I wouldn't label them as rebellious," he said. "I would label them as frustrated."

Columbia's example

In 1999, Columbia, Mo., finished a three-year long process and opened a 28,000-square-foot concrete skate playground in its largest city park.

The project cost $64,000 with a $25,000 donation coming from the Columbia Cosmopolitan Luncheon Club.

All of the construction was done by the parks department, which pared down the cost considerably. Columbia parks director Mike Hood said a similar park built in Kansas City cost $300,000 when contracted out.

But Hood said he and the parks department has been stunned by the skate park's popularity. He said hundreds of skaters use it daily during warm weather.

He said there have been no serious problems with the skate park and the biggest part of maintenance is cleaning up litter.

Hood said it took about three years for the park to be built from when the idea was first brought to the city council.

335-6611, extension 127

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