By Christopher Smith
With a cigarette in one hand and a Monster energy drink in another, 23-year-old skater David Lazo can ride easily holding onto both.
Hitting the brakes before hitting another skater is often what takes real skill at the Dalton Skate Park, he said, with or without anything in your hands.
“Watch where you’re going,” one skater barked at Lazo as Lazo came a little too close one Wednesday morning. His reply? “Sorry, but there ain’t a lot of room, man.”
Lazo, along with several other local skaters, wants a bigger park.
The skate park on the northeast side of the Dalton Parks and Recreation Center off Glenwood Avenue isn’t big enough to handle the usual traffic there, several skaters said, noting it can hold about 20 to 30 skaters before things get crowded and dangerous.
Enter Kate McAtee, a mom of 3-year-old skater Jonah who is picking up the basics at the park. McAtee, too, wants a bigger park for her son so she has rallied several skaters to unite under the Dalton Skate Park Expansion Project, a group asking officials with the recreation center to expand the park.
The approximately 5,000-square-foot park was built in 2011, costing about $100,000, and sits beside a few unused acres of grass skaters think would be ideal for expansion.
“We want something skaters can ride on one go,” McAtee said. “We want something fluid, something that flows, something where skaters don’t have to stop.”
Several skaters say the layout of the course hinders riders because the squared corners are too rigid. A curvy “street skating” design, built to allow non-stop riding, would be more ideal, McAtee said.
“We are not complaining,” she said. “We would rather have a park than not. But when I came out to see the outdoor park for the first time I thought, ‘This is really small.’”
That seems to be the general consensus among local skaters.
“It’s tiny,” 22-year-old skater Jonathan Leberman said. “They have a lot of room to expand though.”
Jordan Loving, who lives in the neighborhood across from the park, said he was “let down” when he first came to the park.
“It needs flow,” Loving said. “You hit this, you hit that, eventually you’ve got to brake. It’s very stop and go.”
‘Grassroots’ movement needed
Steve Card, director of city parks and recreation, said the recreation committee, a 5-member group appointed by Mayor David Pennington, needs to see the “grassroots support system” before approving an expansion to the park.
“The skate park is not only valuable but a necessity to our community,” Card said, voicing his support. “We need to offer something outside the bat-and-ball things. Not everyone plays baseball or football. There are many different interests and skateboarding has a foothold in our community.”
Card said if the support from skaters and non-skaters alike “swells” then expanding the park is likely.
McAtee said she’s trying to organize an online community on Facebook (tinyurl.com/DaltonSkatePark) to show how much local support exists.
“The easy things for something like this are forming a grassroots group, going to public hearings and gleaning support from the recreation commission,” Card said. “The money part is where things get time consuming.”
Card said once the need to expand the park is evident, members of the recreation commission and skaters will have to work “hand-in-hand” to fund the project. Funding will probably come from a combination of fundraising, grants and the recreation budget, some of which is taxpayer money, Card said.
“(But) the best way to generate funding, as with any project, is that the fundamental group supports it,” he said. “It’s up to the skater community to show that there is skin in the game and to find different methods of funding and to present a clear wish list of the park they really want.”
The timeline for the project has too many variables in its early stages to determine how long it could take, Card said, adding that getting a price tag on the expansion and finding the money will be the biggest factors.
“It could take a few months, maybe sometime next year,” he said, “or it could be a year or two. It’s just based on the financial aspect.”
A local ‘Mecca’?
For several skaters, having a park big enough for everyone to skate on is important because, as Lazo said, “it’s the only place we don’t get yelled at by cops.”
“If I skate downtown, I get yelled at by the cops,” he said. “So the city gave us a small park on the backside of the (recreation center). Which is nice, but it leaves a lot to be desired as it stands.”
Tyler Perez, 16, also thinks the park is small compared to others, but adds, “Any park is better than no park.”
Lazo agrees, to an extent.
“Yeah, the city doesn’t owe more park,” Lazo said. “Nobody does. I don’t think anyone here (asking for expansion) is trying to be entitled. But when they (city officials) say, ‘You can’t do what you’re passionate about anywhere else in the city, but here’s a nice place for you to skate at,’ the park should be bigger to accommodate us. It’s OK, but it’s small.”
The larger issue, several skaters said, is a vibe in the area that makes skaters feel unwanted. The park, several skaters say, acts as a local “Mecca” of acceptance in an anti-skater town.
“People think we’re rebels and destructive,” Perez said of how several locals view him and his friends while they skate throughout downtown. “This is what we love to do, man. People think we’re out to vandalize and stuff and we just want to skate.”
“Some people just see someone with a skateboard and automatically assume they are looking at a bad person doing bad things,” he said. “It’s like that all around this area.”
Even McAtee — who “doesn’t look the part” of someone who backs skating because she’s a stay-at-home mom — said she had a “rebel without a cause” stereotype of skaters before she got involved.
“Skating is about getting outside and staying active,” she said. “I came out here and everyone who has come up to me has been supportive and approachable. It’s like a family out here.”
A family that needs a place of its own, McAtee reiterated. After all, she said, a bigger park would help deter local skaters from being where city officials don’t want them: on roads, in back alleys, in front of stores and so on.
“This park is a place where people can do what they love,” she said. “We just need more space to do it.”
“It’s just that we feel a little bit caged up,” he said. “We really need a big park if it’s going to be the only place we’re allowed to skate without getting yelled at.”
The need for skaters to have a place to call their own makes the park “absolutely necessary,” Card said.
“I look forward to working with the skating community on expanding the park,” he said. “We want to improve the facility to the best we can, and as we continue this groundswell to add and make better what we have now, done through the network of skateboarders working hand-and-hand with us, we will grow a fun, safe environment.”