December 3, 2013

Dalton looks at expanding skate park

Charles Oliver

— Victor Cervantes, then barely 15, stood before the Dalton City Council three years ago and made the case for a public skate park. He proved so persuasive that the city had one up and running less than a year later.

Now, Cervantes hopes he and his fellow skaterboarders can convince the City Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission to expand the 5,000-square-foot skate park, which is at James Brown Park on Civic Drive.

“I knew that a lot of people would use it. But I didn’t expect so many people would use it so soon,” Cervantes said Tuesday night.

About two dozen skateboarders gathered at the John Davis Recreation Center to discuss the park, and there was a strong consensus that it is too small and often too crowded.

“It can be dangerous at times, especially for the smaller (skateboarders),” David Parker said.

Recreation Department Director Steve Card said he can empathize.

“It’s right outside my office,” Card said. “There always seems to be someone out there, and sometimes I can look out there and there’s 40 or more people out there trying to skate.”

Kate McAtee organized the meeting. Her 3-year-old son Jonah began skating this spring.

“He really loves it, and everyone at the park has always been so helpful and so kind. They really look out for him,” she said. “But it is often crowded and there are lines, and that can be difficult for a small child. I try to come in the mornings when the older guys are not there, not because of them. Like I said, they’ve been great. I do it for them. I don’t want to hinder their experience.”

Card said if the park is expanded one thing they may consider is creating an area for small children and younger children learning to skate.

Card said it might be easier to sell officials on the idea of expanding the park if older members of the skateboarding community would agree to help mentor younger skateboarders.

“If we could  announce that, I don’t know, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. every other Saturday there will he someone there who will help new skaters learn not only the techniques of skating but also all of the unwritten rules and etiquette you guys expect it would show the rec commission and the City Council there’s some buy-in from the skating community,” he said.

Cervantes said that shouldn’t be a problem since skateboarders do that informally now.

Card said that cost would be an issue in any expansion. The park cost about $100,000 when it was built three years ago. He also warned that the process may not be as quick as it was when the park was built.

“Government moves slowly, but I don’t want that to discourage you,” he said.

Card said that he would meet with the rec commission and talk to City Council members next week and would get back to those who attended Tuesday’s meeting by email.

“We’ll have another meeting like this after the first of the year and talk about what they tell me and what direction they want to go,” he said.

Reached after the meeting, City Council member Gary Crews said the council is always willing to listen to citizens.

“One of the first council meetings I attended was when the young man made the case for the skate park. The council obviously took his concerns and arguments seriously,” he said. “But we’ll need to see what the rec commission recommends and what out budget looks like, what sort of funding we have, before we make any decisions.”

Card said if officials make a decision to expand the park skateboarders will be consulted on its design, just as they had input on the design of the current park three years ago.

He said the amount of use the skate park gets would make it easier for him to argue for its expansion as would the lack of major problems there.

“We haven’t had one complaint from neighbors. I’ve had some people ask me about the park, and I tell them that there are people living just 30 or 40 feet away from it, and they have never complained about any issue with the skaters,” he said.