Letter from the Editor

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Skatepark is up to the Skaters

Somewhere, under a pile of junk in the back of the garage of my memory... is a board.

Oh my gosh. When I noticed that the petition for a skatepark in Storm Lake had reached its goal, my first thought was, "lowwww priority." Quickly followed by the likes of "too expensive," "liability issue," "punk magnet," and the ever-popular "You'll put an eye out, kid."

Whew, that was close, I nearly had turned into my parents there for a second. Shake it off.

Who am I kidding?

If it wasn't for the matter of multiple decades of zipped-away time, a pair of knees that no longer bend in the correct direction and so much habitual concern over grown-up responsibilities that I can scarely remember what it was like to be a kid, you're darn right I'd be out there too, floppy-haired, crashing and bleeding all over the steps, rails and streets of Storm Lake, getting scattered by the skate cops.

Because as much as I would like to pretend to be mature today, there is no denying the wreckage of gleefully misspent youth strewn behind me. One crushed dirt bike, a litany of parts from destroyed Schwinns, scars from failed attempts at free-scaling gypsum cliffs, a shattered surfboard, and somehere, under a pile of junk in the back of the garage of my memory, one old school skateboard.

Mind you, these were not the kind of board your kids have today. Tony Hawk was a mere zygote; the X-Games, skateparks or halfpipes were unimaginable. The Jurassic boards were spraypainted flat slabs of maple with rattley wheels, slow and heavy as Godzilla and more unstable than Britney Spears' psyche, and if you happened to fall on one, you'd be picking the slivers out of your butt for a week.

Still, with the right kind of street on a hill, and a kindly upsloped driveway curb, you could build up speed, zip between an Camaro and a Pinto, and for a second or two, you could fly.

I'm too uncool at this point to know (you can ask my offspring; I don't know a kickflip from a nosegrind) but maybe that's all the kids want from Storm Lake now - a chance to fly, or something like that.

To take a risk, have a thrill, show some skills (or is it now skillz?), and of course to crash and then get back up again without even rubbing it.

It took over a year to get the petition done, and someone maybe even cheated a little (there's an awful lot of anonymous residents of the United Kingdom on there, hmmm?), but they got their 300 names, and that's worth a few minutes of the city council and chamber's time to look at the situation, in my opinion.

There's a great quote in the documentary film Dogtown and Z-Boys: "Two hundred years of American technology has unwittingly created a massive cement playground of unlimited potential. But it was the minds of 11 year olds that could see that potential."

It's not hard to see why the kids felt a little betrayed - the skatepark was promised in the AWAYSIS plan, heck they were even stoked with a concept drawing full of bowls and rails and good stuff, only to have it taken away when the costs rose on the rest of the projects.

Kids, it wasn't a trick, though it might seem like the powers that be put the screws to you. I was there, and it really was a money thing, and we still have a lot of paying off to do on what has been developed. Sadly, a skatepark - and a really cool nature center - were left in the dust. Not impossible, not unwanted, but needing something other than city benjamins to get real.

So, what do you do now, give up? From what little I've seen, a good skater or BMX rider never quits trying until they nail the trick, so bring a little of that tenacity to the job.

If a couple of teens go to the council and ask for $250,000 to build a skatepark, you're gonna get patted on the head and that will be the end of it. And to be honest with you, that's how it should be. Nothing worth doing is that easy.

You have your petition, and that's a start. If you want to make something of it, get a committee together, and represent every school in the area. If it was me, I'd go after some adult members from the original group appointed to design the Awaysis skatepark as well. When you march into a city hall meeting, do it right; make an impact.

Then I would arm myself. Just wanting something doesn't get it done. Do some research on places that have built such parks, and how much tourism and money they bring to town. Prove that they don't bring vandalism and crime. Check around for grants. Find examples of how local government can avoid liability. Point out that while AWAYSIS built a big playground for little kids, a better golf course for the middle agers and a senior center for the elderly, older teens still have a limited number of options for things to do.

Finally, realize that a handout isn't going to happen. If you want it bad enough, prove it. Come in with ideas for your own fundraisers to help pay for what you want. Bring a list of kids pledging some volunteer time to help prepare such a park and maintain it.

Don't overdo it - we don't necessarily need a showplace like the water park. Skating isn't about being all pretty anyway. Be ready to compromise, at least to start. There's a little-used park space by the copshop, or a city snowpile site not far from the middle school, or an old burn site by the frisbee golf course, a vacant spot on Lakeshore. Make it a kids place, not an adult's idea of what a skatepark is. Maybe a board wall for a grafitti mural, a place for a local band to come play, a cheap set of speakers to play some music like at the old pool.

I don't know if it will happen - but I can tell you it won't happen if you stop at that petition. If you want a skatepark, kids, you have to take ownership of the idea and do your share to earn it. If you do, we decrepid oldies of the city should take notice and consider the opportunity to engage our kids in a priceless lesson in community action.

And that's the way it should be. Nothing for free, but nothing impossible, either, if you work hard enough for it.

My ancient robin's egg blue board, chipped bones and spilled blood are way behind me, but I do still remember how it feels to fly. Goodness help us, Storm Lake, if we have become too old in spirit to relate to that, then we have lost much more than our years along the way.