Skate park is community’s responsibility

Posted: Sunday, May 14, 2006

It’s great when a community can speak its mind.

Such has been the case in Soldotna, where the community has voiced its opinions on the status of the skateboard park on Karen Street. The park has been plagued with vandalism, graffiti and reports of drug abuse.

What’s especially notable is that our youth have had a hand in contributing input.

When Soldotna City Council meetings were held in frustration over what had become of the facility, which cost about $80,000, council member Jane Stein addressed students attending a September meeting.

“You have got to take care of it yourself,” she said. “I throw up my hands.”

Reports of older kids beating up younger ones so they could use the park were reported, and Soldotna Police Department Sgt. Tod McGillivray said closing the park would reduce the police department’s workload “tremendously.”

It would be easy to say that it was a waste of money and throw away the key to the park, but it’s clear no one wants that as the solution.

At the council’s October meeting, Soldotna Middle School students showed up to voice their concerns. Students like Brittany Bush.

“Teens vandalize and graffiti the skate park, and I know there is a lot of drugs, drinking and smoking there,” Brittany told the council.

“Teens do all that at the skate park because it’s not theirs, and they didn’t have to pay for it, and they don’t know how much the city sacrificed to build a place for us to hang out.”

The students even offered solutions to the problem, like installing surveillance cameras or moving the park to a more public location.

On April 26, the adults spoke their minds, with the majority of them suggesting the park be moved — even to across from the police station. More police patrols, more presence is needed, they said.

No matter how practical it may seem to move the park, it isn’t as simple as that. And patrols by police and city workers aren’t going to keep the bad seeds from their agenda, as was clearly spray painted on the barricades to the park April 25.

The point is, the problem doesn’t start with the park, it ends there.

Kids will always be kids, but parents are remiss if they are counting on the city to fill in when they aren’t around.

And it isn’t just the kids who should be taking ownership of the park. The park belongs to the community — our kids, their parents, our neighbors. It belongs to us. We’re paying for it. It’s ours.

Mayor Dave Carey was disappointed when the input turned into, “The city needs to do ... .”

“To say the police need to come by more often is an inadequate response,” he said.

He’s right. Responsibility must be taken for the park —and not just by the city or police. The community as a whole needs to get involved. That means parents spending time at the park when their kids are skateboarding, and users reporting bad behavior — even if it’s from their peers. As for everyone else, make a habit of detouring a few blocks as you’re heading up the Kenai Spur Highway. It would only take a few minutes to swing by the park, smile and wave at the skaters if they’re just out having a good time, or call the police if they’re up to more than half-pipes and kick flips.

The park is being reopened soon. The plan is to clean it up and open the gates. Hopefully there won’t be a flood of bad behavior. The cameras will be installed, patrols increased and permission will be sought to thin trees on property bordering the park to make it more visible.

It’s great that so many have stepped up to say the park should stay, but it’s just the beginning step in making it a successful decision.

With all this talk of responsibility and ownership, it’s time to get the wheels rolling in the right direction — and we can do that as a community.

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