Several Soldotna Middle School students told the city council Wednesday night they were not surprised the city skateboard park was closed. They were only surprised it took this long to close it.
The city closed the recreation facility two weeks ago following repeated incidents of graffiti painting and vandalism, and after receiving reports of illegal drug use at the park.
Eighth-grade students of Michael Gustkey’s, Casee Penrod, Brittany Bush and Jonah Lange, each read letters about the skateboard park closure in a council chamber packed with other middle school and high school students.
Lange said she believed those doing the vandalism “didn’t expect there to be future consequences such as the skate park getting closed.”
The students said they learned in Gustkey’s class that people who own property or resources have an incentive to take care of that property.
Without ownership, people “do not have a big enough incentive to keep it looking nice or treat it right,” said Penrod.
Bush said she learned a lesson in Gustkey’s class involving the ownership of elephants in Africa, and likened the lesson to the skateboard park situation.
“In Kenya, the government owned the elephants so it didn’t matter to most people if the elephants were killed off, and if they were extinct,” Bush said.
“In Zimbabwe, the people had property rights over elephants for food, hunting and to sell their ivory, so there wasn’t much poaching in Zimbabwe.
“People cared about the elephants since they were valuable to them, and (they) didn’t want that resource to run out or disappear,” she said.
“Teens vandalize and graffiti the skate park, and I know there is a lot of drugs, drinking and smoking there,” Bush said.
“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,” she said.
The students suggested the skateboard park be reopened, but with supervision, and in a location less isolated than the current Karen Street address. One said the park should be adjacent to the Alaska State Trooper headquarters building on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
At the Sept. 29 city council meeting, during which the decision was made to close the 3-year-old park, Soldotna Police Sgt. Tod McGillivray said doing so would lighten the workload of police.
Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey said he appreciated the comments of the students.
“It’s pretty impressive that we have students who understand the economics (of the need to close the park) and that there are consequences for these actions,” said council member Sharon Moock.
The council plans to conduct a work session to determine the fate of the skateboard park, and some council members suggested it would be wise to include the three students on a panel deciding that fate.
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