Lynnhurst youth vie for skatepark

LYNNHURST — Never underestimate the determination of a fearless 4th-grader — especially one with a skateboard.

In August, 9- and 10-year-old Lynnhurst skaters Sam Abrams, Harris Sutherland and Carl Forsline decided they were tired of traveling around the city to nosegrind, ollie and flip their boards. Couldn’t the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) build a skatepark in Lynnhurst Park?

The city currently has skateboard facilities at Armatage, Bottineau, Brackett, Creekview, Elliot and Morris parks — one in each of the city’s commissioner districts. According to Park Board documents, all of the parks have ramps and rails atop bituminous or concrete surfaces, totaling roughly 6,000 square feet. They’re also unsupervised, working under a "skate at your own risk" policy.

Almost daily for the past year and a half, the boys’ parents have been taking turns driving the group to skateboarding facilities at parks in Armatage and around the city. During the winter months, they travel as far as Golden Valley to use 3rd Lair, an indoor park.

"We want a facility that’s close to home," Abrams explained, listing off their rationale at a recent Lynnhurst Area Recreational Council (LARC) meeting. Skateboarding is inexpensive, no more dangerous than other sports and "so much fun to do," he said.

The trio of Burroughs Community School students immediately began researching design, cost and implementation options. During a sporting event at the Lynnhurst recreation center, they collected 92 signatures from residents who support their idea. They also figured out which public officials to contact, recalled Beth Forsline, Carl’s mother. "It’s a pretty awesome task for young people to pull off," she said.

Gathering support

Southwest Park Board Commissioner Bob Fine heard about the skatepark idea directly from the boys. "One of the kids left me a message they’re having a meeting the next day," laughed Fine, who supports the kids’ idea. "So I called the [Lynnhurst] center director and he told me, ‘Yep, these kids called me up and asked to reserve a room.’ And it was to make a presentation to me."

Handwritten tagboard posters in hand, the boys presented their ideas to Fine and Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-63A), who was also invited to the meeting. They suggested putting the facility where two half basketball courts currently sit next to a full court. Nobody uses the courts, they reasoned, and we could use the pavement that’s already there.

At the LARC meeting, Council President Mary Pekala said that sometimes kids use the park’s empty swimming pool before Memorial Day and after Labor Day, which isn’t safe and can cause damage.

"When we don’t have a skatepark we can go to, we go to places that we shouldn’t go," admitted Harris during the LARC meeting.

Though they couldn’t help financially, LARC agreed to let the kids apply for grants under the guise of the council, which is a nonprofit organization. Roughly a dozen kids in the room — some of whom were dressed the part of skaters with shaggy hair, torn jeans and knit caps — thanked the board and cheered.

Reality sets in

After talking with Fine and Thissen, presenting their plan at a December Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board meeting, contacting local pro skater Steve Nesser, and talking to the LARC board, the kids soon realized that the fate of their project will come down to cash and the will of Park Board staff.

"The main thing is money," said Alex Zachary, a planner for the Lakes District. "And it’s not just the installation cost, because then we have ongoing maintenance costs and staffing costs from here on out. Adding more facilities that we can’t maintain is not an objective of ours. Ideally, we could have everything for everybody at every park, but we have realities here. As much as the efforts of kids and adults and everybody is appreciated, it doesn’t always make the most sense; but, again, we have to be the ones to make that decision."

Prompted by the Lynnhurst kids’ pleas, MPRB staff has initiated a citywide feasibility study that will evaluate the future of skateparks and the possibility of expanding the facilities in the system.

Depending on the size, Minneapolis’ skateparks have cost between $60,000 and $100,000, Zachary said. With the Park Board’s tight 2008 budget, they don’t have that kind of money.

Zachary noted that it’s up to MPRB staff to determine the design and location of skateparks in the city. "I’m not in favor of removing amenities out of parks to put other amenities in," he said of the kids’ idea to use the space where half basketball courts sit in Lynnhurst Park. "I think it needs to be further examined."

According to Lakes District Manager Paul Hokeness, Kingfield kids have also requested a skateboarding facility at Martin Luther King Park on 40th Street and Nicollet Avenue. "You’ll probably find kids in just about any park that would love a skatepark," he added.

In Lynnhurst, the 4th-graders and their parents remain optimistic. This winter, the boys plan to raise money selling hot cocoa at hockey games, holding fundraisers and auctions, and asking corporations like Target and General Mills to help sponsor their plan.

"They key thing is that we really wanted the kids to do the work," said Beth Sutherland, Harris’ mother. "We didn’t want it to just be a bunch of parents."

Contact Mary O’Regan at [email protected] or 436-5088.