Skateboarders stand to lose last legal skate spot downtown

Assembly members say activity in Marine Park is a danger to pedestrians

Posted: Monday, June 30, 2003

For Jason Bardenheuer, 18, nothing could be more sublime than the moment of weightlessness he feels during a perfect "ollie," or speeding leap on his skateboard, over eight concrete stairs near Marine Park.

"Skating street, it's like art, it's like your own personal expression," Bardenheuer said. "Skateboarding changes you for sure. You think in a whole different mentality, like, if you are driving through a city, you don't see a city, you see a whole bunch of ramps and jumps - a huge skate park."

Unfortunately for Bardenheuer, the Juneau Assembly is positioned to ban skateboarding in Marine Park, the last legal skateboarding spot in downtown Juneau. The Assembly likely will take up the issue at its July 7 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.

"Marine Park is not the correct place to be skateboarding. It's kind of like playing a game of touch football down there," said Assembly member Ken Koelsch, adding he is not against skateboarding altogether. He would just rather see it done away from pedestrians.

The proposed revision to city code would prohibit skateboarding in Marine Park during the summer. Skateboarding already is banned on most downtown streets during tourist season and in Marine Park when cruise ships are in. Juneau has one skateboard park, in the Mendenhall Valley.

Representatives of the cruise ship industry and Assembly members who support the change say downtown boarders endanger pedestrians and will damage benches and curbs in the new Marine Park/Steamship Wharf.

"I saw a kid come flying off those steps, lose his skateboard and hit this guy right in the ankle and he fell down," said Assembly member Merrill Sanford, in a recent interview. "It's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt."

Capt. Tom Porter with the Juneau Police Department said he had heard of one skateboard-related injury to a pedestrian, and it happened several years ago.

Koelsch said he's heard that skateboarders, with their park bench hopping, rail riding and stair jumping, already have done nearly $5,000 of damage to Marine Park, which is scheduled to reopen July 3. City Engineer Rorie Watt couldn't confirm that the damage was that costly, saying it amounted to some scratched paint and dented wood.

"It's sort of like when you get a new piece of furniture and the whole family is proud of it and wants to take care of it," said Assembly member Jeannie Johnson. "I'm not against skateboarders. I admire their athletic ability, but I'm really concerned about that new Steamship Wharf and I would like to be able to meet with a group of them face to face."

Koelsch, Sanford and Johnson expressed interest in finding an alternative place for skateboarders downtown.

At Boarderline snowboard shop in the Nugget Mall late last week, Mikael O'Donnell, 18, played portions of a 10-minute movie he's made about skateboarding on Juneau's downtown streets for his buddy Chris Currier, 24.

On O'Donnell's computer screen, young men in long T-shirts and baggy pants flew down stairways and surfed down rails to the frenetic pulse of punk rock music. Between cuts of skateboard tricks, O'Donnell spliced footage of skateboarders being warned by police and security guards. O'Donnell also shot still pictures of skateboarders who displayed bloodied knuckles and skinned backs.

"We try to stay out of the way, you can't really skate when there's a lot of people around," O'Donnell said. "There's so many crazy rules, it really takes away from something that is pretty much so harmless."

Street skating, O'Donnell explained, is different from skating in a skate park. On the street, a skater can express his creativity, individuality and style, he said. He doubted the new ordinance would deter skaters from skating downtown.

"There are some skate spots that sort of make (a $20 skateboarding ticket) worth it," O'Donnell said.

City Engineer Watt agreed the ordinance wouldn't stop the skateboarders. Transgressing is part of what makes skateboarding fun, Watt said.

"Just like everybody else, skateboarders want to be on the waterfront, and part of the fun for them is poaching rides in places they're not supposed to be," Watt said.

Watt has looked into installing "skate-stoppers" - certain widgets and pegs that interrupt surfaces such as railings and curbs and make skateboarding nearly impossible.

"Basically I have to go down there and figure out what they do and then go and screw a bunch of these things in and be a complete nuisance to them," Watt said.

Julia O'Malley can be reached at

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