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Skateboarders get a home in W.Va.

August 21, 2000

Skateboarders get a home in W.Va.



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

Skate Park 2000MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - When Dan Rogers got a $70 ticket this year and had his skateboard confiscated by the police for using it on city streets, he became more determined than ever to reach a long-time goal.

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On Saturday, the 19-year-old Martinsburg resident will officially realize his goal with the grand opening of a facility at War Memorial Park for skateboarders, roller bladers and bicyclists. The new equipment has been used for about two weeks, while the grand opening is planned.

"We're not getting a spectacular park yet, but it's good," said Rogers, the director of Skate Park 2000, located at the old tennis courts in the city park.

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The idea behind the park is simple, said Jackie Wise, 27, director of public relations for the park.

"The parents like to know where their kids are, who they're hanging with and that they're not out killing themselves," she said. .

Kristy Beavers, 29, brought her son and a friend to the park with their skateboards and helmets Sunday afternoon.

"It gives kids a place to come skateboard without getting into trouble," she said.

"They need to add a little more stuff," said Jon Dameron, 13, who has been skateboarding for several months and who was making his first visit to the facility Sunday.

Jeff Dove, 20, of Martinsburg, also wanted more than the four or five pieces of equipment that are in use now. He built all but one of the wooden structures and said more will be built as quickly as possible.

He's wanted a skate park for years. Despite past failed attempts, a months-long effort succeeded this time, led partially by young people who got into the system to make it work for them.

"They're letting us do it ourselves," Dove said. "That's why we're getting it."

The recent history of the park shows many events and people coming together, said Judy Boykin, executive director of the Family Resource Network of the Panhandle, a non-profit group that provided logistical and organizational support.

"It was a pretty good match of adults and kids," Boykin said.

Last fall, about the time that Rogers and his friends were looking for help to turn their dream into reality, Boykin's group had just completed a survey of 1,800 students aged 14-17.

"The first thing they wanted was a place to hang, where they could be safe," she said. "And in terms of recreation, they wanted a place to skateboard, skate or whatever."

The city had an ordinance prohibiting skateboarding in the streets - prompted primarily by a concern over insurance liability.

A committee was formed to push the idea of a park and the young people were told to get involved in the government and political process, just like adults who want to get something done.

"How do you meet them on their turf and get your point across?" Boykin said the young people were asked. "How do you turn the heads of men who think if you wear a black shirt and carry a skateboard, you are one of those dreggie kids?"

They started trying to clear up misunderstandings and when they appeared before the City Council earlier this year, council members pledged $20,000 to get started.

Rogers said it didn't hurt that the young people had T-shirts printed saying "Build A Skate Park," and registered to vote in full view of the news media and right in the midst of city elections.

"The candidates wanted to show their support," Rogers said.

A key hurdle was obtaining insurance. That's being provided by a national skate park association. Anyone who wants to use the park must purchase a $25 personal insurance policy though the association. It costs an additional $3 each time to use the park. The money goes for maintenance, more equipment and to build a fund for a permanent park.

The city has given the group a one-year lease. Organizers are looking at sites for a permanent home, possibly in Ambrose Park. Boykin said about $70,000 will be needed to build a permanent facility.

Long-term success depends on how much use this park gets. The nearest park is in Leesburg, Va.

But everyone involved with this park is upbeat about its chances to finally succeed.

"The park is being used as a testing ground to see how it goes over,' Rogers said. "I'm pretty confident things will turn out all right."

Added Boykin: "I really believe that together we can make this happen."

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