Local skateboarders like Jonathan Wicklander spent nine years trying to get a skate park for Kelso. They attended Kelso City Council meetings and raised nearly half the money for the $445,000 project.
The result was a 10,000 square-foot park built at the corner of Minor Road and Burcham Street. Less than a decade later, Wicklander says, it’s already crumbling.
“When the park was first built, it was packed, crowded for the first couple years. People were seeing it off the highway and checking it out. Now, those people ... just continue to drive by. They don’t want to stop (because it’s in bad shape),” Wicklander said. “From my point of view, we got something that should have been built way better.”
Wicklander says the problems at the skate park create safety hazards. The concrete rim of the bowl, called the coping, is breaking and chipping off. Water leaks through the seams running along the base of the bowl. Skateboard wheels snag on chips in the concrete that forms the clamshell, and boarders trip on chunks of concrete in the base of the bowl.
“If you’re going fast on a board (and you hit a piece of concrete), you’re going to get thrown,” Wicklander said.
Kelso Community Development Director Michael Kardas, who was a senior city engineer on the project at the time, challenged Wicklander’s claim that the park was poorly built, arguing that it just needs better upkeep.
“It’s taken 10 years of heavy use. I’m certain it needs repairs,” Kardas said Thursday.
Kelso Public Works Superintendent Randy Johnson said he hadn’t heard any concerns about the skate park until Wicklander posted photos on social media last week, garnering nearly 70 comments.
Since then, Johnson and other officials have met with Wicklander twice to discuss his concerns and possible solutions. Wickerlander gave them a list of manufacturers that specialize in skate parks and could repair the park, which was helpful, Johnson said.
The Kelso Rotary Skate Park project has been controversial from the beginning. It was first set in motion when the Kelso Rotary pledged $45,000 for the project about 19 years ago. Nine years of debate followed, including a petition against the project location from neighbors, but the new park was eventually unveiled and quickly attracted nearby skateboarders.
Wicklander, 31, said skate parks are important for kids who do not want to participate in organized sports, such as football. He’s a Kelso High School grad who has been skateboarding for two decades. His job as a weld inspector for power plants takes him around the country.
“I’ve traveled the United States for seven years and I’ve seen a whole lot of skate parks,” he said. “I know what works.”
When it first opened, the park attracted 50 people a day, Wicklander said. Now, “we’re lucky to see 20 people.” On a sunny but chilly Wednesday afternoon this week there were four others cruising around the bowls.
Wicklander said he was disappointed with the final product because it didn’t include all the features from the original design, but Kardas said the city just didn’t have enough money. In addition to the Rotary’s donation, the project received $150,000 from the state and $20,000 from the Tony Hawk Foundation, Kardas said, but the city footed the remaining $230,000 cost.
“Just because (the park) needs maintenance doesn’t mean we won’t get life out of it. Your car can last 15 years but you have to change the oil,” Kardas said.
Wicklander said he has spent his own money on bonding adhesive to repair seams and glue up cracks in the cement. He’s trying to raise $5,000 to rip out and replace the coping. So far, he’s raised about $300 through a GoFundMe account. He says he’s partnered with Findlay Hats to sell about 36 limited edition hats that will raise another $1,000 for the project.
Because the park is a public space, the group would likely have to give the money to the city for the specified purpose of repairing the park, City Manager Steve Taylor said. The city also allocates money each year for the upkeep of public parks.
“There’s a lot of parks to maintain throughout the year. And there’s a lot of constant work at the park that’s needed because of vandalism: graffiti, broken glass. It’s time consuming,” Taylor said. “From the city’s standpoint, we need to ensure that we’re constantly looking at the state of repair of the facility to ensure that it’s in good working order and make sure it’s safe for use.”
“We’re definitely willing to work with anybody who wants to help us out,” Johnson added. “Everybody knows we’re shorthanded to begin with.”
If he can raise even more funds, Wicklander said he’d like to build another bowl with a cover so kids could skate there even when it’s raining. And he’d like to commission some murals on the bowls as well.
“If you can be a voice in the community, you should do it. I’m trying to do what I can.”