Skate park: 'cesspool' or 'endless potential'?

Caretakers, patrons say skate park has become haven for alcohol, drug and tobacco use

Posted: Friday, October 16, 2009

The Pipeline Skate Park was once a self-policed, family-friendly facility covered in murals with mountains and aurora borealis, but has fallen into disarray in recent years with offensive graffiti routinely spray painted on walls and floors littered with beer cans, cigarette butts and drug paraphernalia.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Officials said during a parks advisory committee meeting Tuesday night that the city-managed park has become a haven for alcohol, drug and tobacco use. Thursday, copious cigarette butts and several empty beer cans were apparent at the park, and a receipt with marijuana residue on it lay on a ramp.

"I'll tell you, it's a cesspool," Sgt. Tom Bates of the Juneau Police Department said Tuesday night. "There is a lot of stuff going on out there."

Some avid skaters say it is not their peers that are vandalizing and disrespecting the park, but loiterers that are taking advantage of an open, covered facility to hang out in the middle of the night.

Skater Logan Terry, 17, said there is alcohol and drug use going on at the park, but said skaters are there to skateboard.

"Yeah, it goes down. Like, we'll come in in the morning and there will be broken bottles and people who have, like, spilled stuff all over the ramps," he said. "Usually if a skater sees someone, like, spilling stuff or trying to vandalize stuff, we'll do something about it pretty quick."

And the graffiti recently became so bad at that officials decided it needed a facelift.

"In the last two weeks, we went in and totally whitewashed (and) cleaned it," said Brent Fisher, city facilities maintenance superintendent. "Literally within 24 hours they were in there and they painted all four walls again. We play this dance now about every two days."

The city is holding an hour-long meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the downtown library's large conference room to address the skate park issues. A number of possible solutions have been suggested to move away from the "unsupervised open venue management plan," including possibly adding surveillance cameras or adding a gate to secure the facility at night.

Kristi West, manager of the Zach Gordon Youth Center, which oversees the skate park, said the facility ran smoothly for about 10 years with the help of skaters that took pride in the park and self-policed it. The number of users hasn't decreased at the facility recently, but the number of younger skaters is lower because many parents don't feel it's safe for their children to be there anymore, she said.

"We've come to the point where we really need to change what we're doing out there," West said.

Some have suggested letting the skate park be a space that allows graffiti and creativity to blossom, but Bates said that is not a good idea for the public.

"The problem is once you have one place they are doing it, they start branching out," he said. "I guarantee once they get all that done they'll start branching out from that area and start vandalizing other things."

Just painting over graffiti is not going to solve many problems at the skate park, Terry said.

"There was a bunch of painting and graffiti and stuff there that kind of gave it some flare and every time somebody puts something up they paint over it in white now so they kind of have an insane asylum skate park now," he said.

Patrick Van Pool, who has been skating for 15 years and has worked part time at the park for the past six years, said the catalyst for the decline of the park over the past three years has been a lack of resources and unfinished ramps and other park features.

"If someone was in there that was passionate about making something happen with the skate park, I mean, it's just, like, endless potential," he said. "It's really an awesome opportunity if the opportunity was given to someone who wanted to do something with it."

The park has a lot of design problems, doesn't flow well, and has some pretty basic safety issues, Van Pool said.

"That kind of makes it where kids don't want to skate there as much and then it just attracts people that loiter and then it kind of goes downhill from there," he said.

Unfortunately, Van Pool said, the time has probably come for the city to put up some kind of gate to keep people from causing trouble at the park in the middle of the night.

"I think to really make it more of a positive environment, which is kind of the ultimate goal of the facility, is I think just completing it and maybe having someone supervising on occasion and make it to where kids can't just sit there and chain smoke, drink 40s and break bottles all over the ramps," he said.

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