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Flight of the living shred: Kelso Skate Park draws a crowd during pandemic

Flight of the living shred: Kelso Skate Park draws a crowd during pandemic

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Jacob Booth spent Thursday rolling down memory lane. More accurately, the 2015 graduate of Castle Rock High School spent what may have been the final warm and dry afternoon of the fall kicking flips, grinding rails, pumping bowls and otherwise attempting to get completely pitted at the Kelso Rotary Skate Park.

But this wasn’t his first trip to the concrete labyrinth on the east side of I-5 in between Kelso’s two freeway exits. Booth, who played baseball for the Rockets back in his prep days, has long had the Rotary skate park on his list of favorite shredding spots.

“We started coming down here when we were around 11 or 12, back in middle school. Back then it always seemed like an older scene...now it seems like the younger generation has taken over,” Booth said. “Just seeing all the older guys shredding always made me want to keep getting better and keep coming back.”

Indeed, as was the original intention, a new generation of skaters has taken over the Rotary Skate Park. That park, which is owned by the City of Kelso, was constructed in 2009 and the 10,000 square foot layout has certainly seen its share of growing pains. But, ever since the rains first began to part last spring the park on the hill has been swarming with the young and brave at heart on their wheeling assortment of skateboards, razor scooters and BMX bikes.

“I think this is definitely the best destination for skateboarding in Cowlitz County,” Booth said. “Castle Rock has a small park. Longview’s is cool but it’s not quite as big and the concrete isn’t as smooth.”

That critique of Longview’s Cloney Park was a common refrain from the crowd of skaters in Kelso on Thursday. Some skaters noted that while they prefer Longview’s street style layout there is no way to get around its many deficiencies. Nearly everyone in that chorus noted that they are from Longview but opt to travel to the corner of Burcham Street and Minor Road in Kelso each day because the conditions are so much better.

“The Longview skate park is so bad,” Isaiah Evans, of Longview, said in between high flying laps on his scooter. “You can barely ride it without hitting a crack and falling. And all the ledges are so rusted. No matter how much wax you put it does not make it better.”

That inclination to maintain their surroundings and to take pride in their shared space seems to have intensified during the first eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic as a ragamuffin community of skaters found refuge at the Rotary park. The regulars at the park on Thursday estimated that between 15-20 skaters have been dependably congregating every day that doesn’t have sideways rain.

“Sometimes families have barbecues and stuff here. We just chill and skate,” Evans said. “(The city) only closed it once and that was because construction was around it.”

Contrary to past complaints from city staff, there was no garbage, no litter, no vandalism or graffiti present at the park on Thursday. The worst offense appeared to be the use of an orange safety cone that was likely “borrowed” from that nearby construction project.

“The city doesn’t do anything. That’s all us,” Evans insisted. “People will paint (bad) stuff here, like the N-word, and people, like skaters, come down here and paint over it.”

That tradition of communal upkeep and suspicion of authority is one that has been passed down through generations of skaters from the pools of Dogtown to the podiums of the X-Games. Whether Tony Hawk seems young or old relative to yourself is beside the point if you’ve ever observed, or better yet, participated in authentic skate park culture.

“I don’t know if it’s the city people or the skaters who take care of it but when there is leaves and stuff in the deep end, during the fall and whatnot, you’ll see people have taken them off the drain so they can keep skating,” Booth noted. “I’d say the community is pretty well off here.”

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