As word of the effort to convince Storm Lake leaders to build a skatepark for youth began to leak to the outside world, a burst of supportive signatures from as far away as Australia and the United Kingdom put a long-standing online petition drive over the top.
Student Gabriel Torres, representing a group calling itself "Kids of Storm Lake" started the online petition in September 2007 with a goal of obtaining 300 signatures before approaching the Chamber of Commerce. They had originally hoped to kickstart a project in 2008, but momentum built more slowly than expected. By word of mouth, the signature list slowly grew over the past year, reaching 300 and closing out on December 30.
"We're just thinking about ideas of what to do that will make people see that we really need it," says Torres.
A 15,000 square-feet inground concrete skatepark had been planned out to include in the Project AWAYSIS development, but was later set aside due to a lack of available funding. It is still slated as a "related" project to AWAYSIS, but no such development is currently included in the city budget, and the matter has not been discussed by the city council.
Torres has said the young people understand the reasons for delaying the park, but notes that without it, enthusiasts of skateboarding, BMX biking and scooter-riding are forced into the streets. "Why wait for somebody to get hurt?" he says.
"We have been promised again and again that we would have a skate park. It was in the plans for AWAYSIS, and then taken out. Some of the reason AWAYSIS was approved was because of the skate park," added Logan Bigley, one of those who signed the petition.
When the young people approach community officials, they may find a receptive ear, but an empty pocket.
Chamber officials said this week that they were unaware the petition was complete, but indicated that they would be willing to meet with skatepark proponents.
"Do we need something like that?- probably," says Gary Lalone, CEO of the chamber. "I think most everyone would like to see that, but money is the issue. You would probably need a committee to work out the plan, and of course they would need to go through the city government before it could happen."
City officials also were unaware that the petition is complete, and also were open to discussion but making no promises.
"The city has always been interested in doing a skatepark. The issues remain the same now as they were before - money and location," said Development Director Mike Wilson. "We are aware of the interest - I still get calls periodically asking about a skate park. We are always available to talk if they would like to come to us."
The city has elements of AWAYSIS to pay off for some time to come. Supporters of the petition have mentioned the possibility of having fundraiser events to help offset the costs. At the time of the AWAYSIS plan, volunteers investigated some grant opportunities and a foundation apparently operated by (skateboard champion) Tony Hawk.
The project at that time went as far as a conceptual drawing, but never got as far as finalizing a location. One possibility mentioned was the lightly-used park area behind the police station. The petition favors a location in the King's Pointe area - so young people could skate and then cool down in the waterpark.
The petition may have started with students, but parents, grandparents and even a few teachers have put in their opinions. The skating and BMX communities nationwide and beyond have found the site and added their voices.
"Supporting BMX, skate and blading the world over - skateparks for everyone, they help kids improve fitness, confidence, reduce crime and encourage community sprit," wrote Brett Staples, United Kingdom, who signed on the final day the petition was active.
A California bike rider chimed in that he had heard about the petition from a fellow rider. "This skatepark in Iowa needs to happen," he said.
"It would be really sweet if you guys would get one. People from out of town would go there more, and we have money to help your businesses out," said Iowa skater Blake Manwarren.
"They built one in my town year. and it brought out more kids that would just stay inside doing nothing for the one simple reason that they would get ticketed for doing what they love!" a New Jersey enthusiast wrote.
Many of the local youth signing the petition mentioned that they are often chased away from any of the areas in the city where they could potentially do skate tricks.
The closest skateparks were built recently in Spencer and Carroll, and petition-signers say such existing parks often do not welcome the BMX bikers.
"Once we have a skate park, people will go," said Alan Vrieze, another student in on the petition. "A lot of kids are getting into skating these days and we don't want to travel to Spencer."
"All we need is a safe, legal and sufficient place to practice our sport, so many other places in Iowa have skate parks," Torres said earlier in the petition process. "I'm sure I speak for a lot of skaters in that we need a skate park so the cops can stop being called and we don't disturb property. We want a place where we can practice and learn new things. Storm Lake has a lot to offer already; all sorts of parks. They say the big issue is the liability. Skateboarding is just as dangerous as football and soccer, and I don't understand how they can have so many soccer and football fields and not have this for us."
The letter accompanying the petition suggests that the skatepark and the safety of the city's youth was placed on a back burner while other expenses in the AWAYSIS plan, including a lighthouse and Great Lawn that the petition refers to as "eye candy," went ahead.
"This is great opportunity for our kids to stay around here when they grow up and learn new things like skateboarding, bike riding, rollerblading and riding scooters. Wouldn't you rather see your kids in a skatepark then out on the streets wreaking havok? Think about the youth of Storm Lake and keep families in Storm Lake, and maybe keep it growing," the petition letter reads. "That's why they brought in Project AWAYSIS anyways, right?"
In information included with the petition, the group claims that there are now over 1,000 skateparks in the U.S. with about 300 additional parks planned per year. Almost all skateboarding accidents happen on the streets, not in parks, with a high percentage involving motor vehicles, they added, citing studies on sports injuries.
They also called for a concrete park, as was originally planned, as opposed to steel or wood. That would make for a more permanent, quiet, and virtually maintenance-free park, and concrete stands up better to bike traffic. They said the concrete must be above grade (4000 lbs per square inch) to ensure high quality. In terms of size, many skatepark manufacturing companies refuse to build a park less than 7,000 square feet because of the safety hazards a small park poses to a user, they said. The average new park being built is 12,000 to 15,000 square feet - the size Storm Lake had planned earlier.
Most available plans run 80 x 100 feet or larger to provide the cushioning space between riding features to reduce the chance of collision and injury. Costs for such parks generally start around $250,000, although no formal estimate was made for the Awaysis skatepark plan, which included features such as stairs, ledges, rails, contoured bowls and sloped banks.