Skating on the edge of trouble in La Center?

City prepares small, very visible skate spot for tweens and younger teens

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



LA CENTER — When the city of La Center announced plans to include a miniature skate park — a “skate spot” — in its upgrade of Holley Park, nobody much objected.

The city’s own public works director wasn’t too pleased, though.

“Last year the city went through a planning process for Holley Park. In that process we did a pretty significant outreach and a skate park, something for skateboarding, that activity kept coming up,” said Jeff Sarvis. “I’ll just tell you that most of us, probably me included, were not real thrilled.”

Why not? Because skate parks have developed a bad reputation among parents, police and other public officials. In Ridgefield, skaters drawn by ramps and a “grind box” at the central downtown park were behind a spate of vandalism and tagging a few years back. The town responded by temporarily removing the skating equipment (which it will still do when warranted) and instituting a careful tracking system for offenders, who can be permanently banned from the park.

In Vancouver, big skate parks at Waterworks Park, near Clark College, and at Pacific Community Park, off Northeast 172nd Avenue, have both run into plenty of problems. In response, the city instituted a camera system at Pacific Park. But no easy remedy has been found for Waterworks Park, which is near downtown and a busy urban intersection. More lights have been suggested, but park officials say that would just attract more nighttime traffic and activity.

In Hazel Dell, the skate spot at Tenny Creek Park has been hit by vandals multiple times. The nearby neighbors of Fairgrounds Community Park refused to even let a skate spot into that 88-acre greenspace; folks who turned out for Fairgrounds Neighborhood Association meetings at the time were solidly against it because of the perceived danger of crime and vandalism. The skate spot was deleted from the final plan for Fairgrounds Community Park, although officials said they were uneasy about removing an amenity so clearly valued by an important segment of their clientele: teenagers.

After all, not all the skaters are soiling their own nests — just a select few, right?

Young people who answered a La Center city survey last year were all in favor of a skate park. Adults who answered their own survey showed worries and mixed feelings.

“I think they should have a skate park because then people will go to our park and think how nice it is,” one youth said in the comments section.

“Skate parks bring crime and more availability of drugs to our kids, no skate park,” one adult wrote.

“I feel our town would benefit greatly from a skate park,” said another. “It would keep kids out of trouble and give them something to do. A skate park would give them a place to hang out and have fun and be with other peers and make friends.”

Sarvis summed up: “We really didn’t hear a lot of opposition to the idea of a skate spot. Probably more support than opposition.”

Other ideas that were floated for Holley Park were a community center building and an aquatics facility. Those are lovely ideas, Sarvis said, and understandably popular. They would come at quite a cost in terms of both money and space in the existing 7-acre community park, which is already full of ball fields, tennis and basketball courts, a small community center and public works shop.

La Center has $300,000 to spend on upgrades to Holley Park, Sarvis said. So, for the time being, the city will pursue only the modest skate spot and a “spray pad” — that is, a water playground for little kids, like the one that’s beside Klineline Pond in Salmon Creek.

Youth and location

Younger kids are the key to the success of the skate spot, Sarvis said, along with that beloved real estate concept: location, location, location.

“Good visibility” will make the difference, Sarvis said. The skate spot is planned to be squeezed into a narrow strip of unused land between the existing, north-facing baseball diamond there and East Fourth Street; the facility essentially will hug the road and be joined by a long walkway with the existing community center parking lot.

The facility will be modest, Sarvis said — no giant bowls, half-pipes or other sprawling concrete landscapes.

“This will be targeted to a group that’s preteen to early teen,” he said. “Not a big skill level and not older skaters. This will not be a pro thing. It will be pretty scaled down.”

All of which makes sense to Melissa Flat, a citizen who volunteered to advise the city on the park upgrade.

Flat is a perfect example of an ambivalent parent. “I’m not a super fan of most skate parks because of what they tend to attract,” she said. But she’s a definite fan of the city’s plan for a smaller, easily supervised one. “What I like about this one in particular is that it’s close to the road and easy for everybody to keep an eye on,” she said.

“The kids need a place to go, definitely,” Flat said. “This is a small town. I’m from a small town and I know, when there’s nothing to do in your small town, the kids will find something to do. There’s a lot of peer pressure, both good and bad. There’s already stuff that goes on in this city. I don’t think it will move to the skate park.”

Speaking of good peer pressure, what really won Flat over was one young man, perhaps 13 years old, who came to a park planning meeting and stayed long after his peers took off.

“He had great ideas, he had solutions to the problems that might arise. He was really stepping up,” said Flat. “It was really great to see a young man standing up for what he believed in. He stayed for the whole meeting. He wants that skate park and he wants ownership of it. He wants it to be a good thing for this community.

“When it comes to peer pressure in a good way, that’s the only way. It was inspiring to see.”

The project hasn’t been put out to bid yet, but Sarvis expects ground to be broken by June 1, with the project finished in August. The city is working with New Line Skateparks ( of Vancouver, B.C., on the design.