Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Skaters crowd City Hall

Alternatives to closing of world-class skate park discussed

Express Staff Writer

Hailey skater Jimmy Graves rolls through the Hailey Skate Park on a recent afternoon. The Hailey City Council has considered closing the facility. Photo by Willy Cook

Skateboarders joined together in force at Hailey City Hall on Monday night to keep the town's skate park open. They came with complaints, creative solutions and even a few design plans for a City Council that recently threatened to close the park down.

It took four years and $500,000 to build the Hailey Skate Park. The full-radius pipe at the park was described by Thrasher Magazine as "the first of its kind to be built in over 25 years west of the Mississippi." In 2003, world champ Tony Hawk brought skaters Bam Margera, Shaun White, Alex Chalmers and Ryan Sheckler to the park to skate its "baby-smooth, concrete tall walls and a kooky layout," as described by Thrasher.

But lately the park has gotten a bad rap due to vandalism, bullying and criminal behavior that led Hailey officials to threaten to close it earlier this month.

Councilman Fritz Haemmerle, who visited the park daily with a Hailey police officer over the last two weeks, said a few "bad apples " were ruining the park for everyone. He said the trouble was not started by skaters, but by other kids who come to hang out and make trouble.

After a BB gun shooting at the park two weeks ago, Hailey police stepped up patrols of the area, and began issuing "no trespassing" letters to miscreants.

"It took us two days to find out who shot the BB gun because nobody at the skatepark would tell us who it was," Police Chief Jeff Gunter said in an interview.

Haemmerle told the skaters and family members assembled at City Hall that they should report bad behavior at the park to police, or the city would be forced to close the park.

"The skate park is a wonderful asset and should be fully utilized," he said. "The power in my mind is with you to keep the park open."

Yet many of the skaters present, and some of the citizens who helped raised funds to made the park possible, said the city should play a more active role in keeping the park safe and clear.

Avid skater and former Bellevue Councilman Steve Fairbrother suggested installing solar-activated lights that turn off automatically at a certain time at night, and a video surveillance camera to discourage rule breaking and vandalism.

Joy Spencer, a mother of a Hailey skater, suggested hiring a monitor at the park for safety and security, "like a lifeguard at a swimming pool."

Real estate agent Jim Keuhn helped raise money to build the park, which was originally dedicated to a teen suicide victim. He said the city should pay to build a bathroom and increase garbage pick-ups at the park for starters.

"This is the most-used, most cost-efficient park in Hailey," he said. "It is at the gateway of the city and is the only park designed specifically to service the children of this community."

Michael Muir of Bellevue is one of the many skaters who has volunteered time and money in recent years to keep the park clean and safe. He described himself as one of the "old men " of the skate park, familiar with its culture and mores.

Muir said the city's intention to organize and regulate activity at the park was well intended but that the city should not expect complete compliance immediately.

"These are skaters," he said. "It's a fluid thing, people come and go. It's not a baseball team."

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