Posted by:on July 31st, 2007
Dateline: Englewood Florida. Headline: County wipes out good, clean fun Overmonitoring, irregular hours and high fees mar new skate park
Eric Ernst wrote a piece for The Herald Tribune about micromanaging the fun out of the new Englewood skatepark that Team Pain built. Here in Oregon, most of our parks are free, open from dawn to dusk and unmonitored. And for the most part, this works out great.
I’ve been to other sites and commented on skatepark usage policies. Sometimes these sites are skateboard centric, and sometimes they are Parks and Rec or local opinion forums. I try to explain why our system works, but a lot of skateboarders seem to have resigned themselves to just being happy they have a place to skate, and the general public still seems to see a skatepark as some sort of special privilege and/or expense while they are perfectly willing to be hands off when it comes to letting people play basketball, baseball, soccer or tennis. When the do-gooders and the I-know-betters get involved it can kill a skatepark. Look at what has happened to Klamath Falls Oregon. While it’s one thing for me to spout off on Skate and Annoy about how your town should run it’s skateparks (plural, because you deserve more than one), it’s refreshing to hear it come from another adult in a public forum that appeals to the people who are making the rules, and the people who pay their salaries. Thanks to Tito from Team Pain for the heads up. [Photo: Ed Pfueller/Herald Tribune. Caption: Skate guard John Harkins watches the action at the Englewood skate park, “so everybody follows the rules” to ensure a good time, he says.]
County wipes out good, clean fun
Here are some choice quotes from Eric Ernst’s article. Actually, the whole thing is worth quoting. So at this point it’s more like copyright infringement, but on the chance that this article disappears from the web in the future here it is. Please visit The Herald Tribune in the mean time so they still get their ad revenue.
Leave it to government to ruin a good thing.
That is what is happening at Charlotte County’s new $850,000 skateboard and inline skating park in Englewood.
There is nothing wrong with the 18,000-square-foot layout of bowls, ramps and rails. It is drawing rave reviews.
The problem lies with the folks from parks and recreation who run it. They do not know much about skateboarding. And rather than embrace the sport for what it is — a demanding athletic activity that has burst from the underground to become a fixture in popular culture — they seem to see it as an accident waiting to happen.
Somebody is going to get hurt. Oh my. We had better squelch the fun as much as possible or Johnny is going to scrape his knee.
Bulletin to parks and rec: That is exactly why we built the park, so Johnny could learn how to fall in a brilliantly designed county facility rather than off the loading dock at Wal-Mart.
Here are the complaints, which are mounting since the park opened two weeks ago:
The fees. They will be set at a 9 a.m. hearing Monday at the county administration building in Murdock. The county plans to charge kids $6 to get in. It covers only four hours of skating. From Friday through Sunday, the park opens from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., closes for an hour, then reopens from 4 to 8 p.m. Kids would have to pay another $6 if they want to get back in to skate in the later slot.
These prices are more in line with a private, for-profit operation, not one sponsored by tax dollars and donations.
The inconsistency jars even more when compared to nearby tennis and basketball courts, where the county (and rightfully so) levies no charge to play. Do not attribute the fee to maintenance costs, either. In the same Oyster Creek Regional Park complex, swimmers at the county pool — which surely requires more maintenance than a concrete skate park — pay $1.50 for all day ($2.50 for 18 and older).
Too much supervision. Skateboarding originated as a street sport. It has its own etiquette. The kids do not need adults telling them to wait their turn or to “be careful” when they try tricks. The ones who do not know the unwritten rules will learn them soon enough from their peers.
The county has stationed two employees at the skate compound, one to handle entry fees and check equipment, another to hover over everyone in a lifeguard chair. This is an excessive, feel-good measure that seemingly addresses the risk that “someone is going to get hurt.”
No one objects to an adult hanging out at the center to provide some loose organization and a focal point to settle any disputes. That makes sense. North Port’s skate park has used that system successfully. Two adult monitors is overkill.
The kids already repeat the story about one of their peers who kept trying a trick at the park until an adult monitor forced him to stop for fear he would hurt himself. No wonder they call them “pad nannies.”
Yes, kids can get hurt doing tricks on skateboards. They can get hurt doing lots of things. The industry likes to trot out a 1999 study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission showing that the percentage of participants injured in, say, basketball is more than twice as great as those injured skateboarding.
Yet, parks and rec assigns no monitors to its nearby basketball court. Nor does it assign lifeguards to its public beach in Englewood.
Irregular hours. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. It is summer. This park should be open from dawn to dusk at least. During school hours, it might be justified to shut the park for part of the day, or somehow limit it to older users, so it does not encourage truancy. But other than that, it should be wide open.
If money is the problem, then the county could cut its on-site staffing in half and double the park’s hours. Problem solved.
Or, it could contract with a private vendor, perhaps one of the local skate shops, to oversee the site. That way, people who know about skating, and who want to be there, could manage it.
And instead of recouping some of its operating costs by charging entry fees, parks and rec or the contracted manager could make a profit on products from on-site vending machines.
The disconnect between what the people expected and what the county staff has delivered became apparent Tuesday when Tram Pickett of Englewood appeared before the county commissioners to raise many of these points.
Pickett certainly has standing. His mother-in-law, Jeane Berlin, donated $200,000 toward the park. Englewood’s Rotary clubs and businesses chipped in more, which is how the park came to be named the J.M. Berlin/Rotary Skate Park.
The donors expected better. And their experience could discourage future private contributions of the type the county claims it wants.
Even by Florida standards, which draw ridicule on national skateboarding Web sites, Charlotte’s fees, rules and attitude come across as obstructionist and exclusionary. Given the wonderful state-of-the-art features of the physical layout, one industry figure says, “It’s like pouring a bottle of ketchup on a 2-pound lobster.”
He is right.
Let the kids skate. For free. We have already paid for them to be able to.
Eric Ernst may be reached at 627-7584 or email@example.com
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