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Islanders rally to keep Vashon’s skatepark open

The BARC skatepark has been used by more than 300 kids this year. - Allison Reid photo
The BARC skatepark has been used by more than 300 kids this year.
— image credit: Allison Reid photo

When Allison Reid’s 9-year-old son started skateboarding at BARC this summer, she had some reservations.

“I thought it was just for teens,” she said. “I didn’t even know it was supervised.”

Now, Reid is fighting to make sure the skatepark stays open.

“It’s not at all what I have always thought it was. … It’s fabulous for him,” she said. “We go all the time, and I want to help.”

Last month, parents learned the indoor skatepark, open five days a week at the Burton Adventure Recreation Center (BARC), was on an unsustainable path. The park district program, which costs about $20,000 a year to operate, has barely broken even in past years, despite yearly help in the form of a $3,500 grant by the Development of Island Teens (DOIT). Last year, the skatepark came up $800 short.

This year, the park district lowered admission to the park in an attempt to draw more skateboarders, inline skaters and scooter riders and make the program accessible to a wider number of people. “People were saying they couldn’t afford it,” said Susan McCabe, the park district’s program coordinator.

Attendance dropped slightly, however. And now, despite a $5,000 DOIT grant this year, the park district estimates the skatepark will be $4,000 in the hole by the end of the year.

What’s more, the district is unsure if it will receive any more funds from DOIT. The grant was closely tied to the Vashon Youth Council, which closed this summer.

Fundraising for a new outdoor skate park at BARC, meanwhile, has been temporarily put on hold while the park district works out permitting issues, fundraises for its new $1.5 million sports fields complex and focuses on sustaining the existing indoor park.

“We’d love to get past brinkmanship every year, being on the brink of disaster,” said McCabe.

In an urgent email last month, McCabe told BARC supporters that funds needed to be raised, and soon, to get the park out of the red. Almost immediately, McCabe said, parents expressed interest in helping, skatepark usage jumped and some older skaters even came to the park district offices to ask what they could do.

Reid, who has a background in marketing, quickly stepped up to chair the BARC stewards group. She  decided that the skaters themselves should work to raise the money needed.

Last weekend, frequent users of the skatepark began collecting items for a rummage sale to be held during the first weekend in December. Dubbed “Rummage at the Skatepark,” Reid hopes the sale will piggyback on the art studio tour that weekend and bring in at least $3,000 — the amount needed after recent donations to keep the park within its budget.

“It seems doable,” she said.

Tage Rauen, 24, said a large group of kids and teens would be devastated to see the skatepark close. Rauen, who has skated at BARC for more than a dozen years, said it’s one of the only options for Island kids who aren’t interested in team sports.

Taking a break from skating one rainy afternoon last week, Rauen stood with some friends outside the  cavernous, 3,600-square-foot structure on S.W. 228th Street and told of how he grew up skating at BARC and eventually became a paid supervisor. He has watched a new batch of kids, many of them 10 or 11 years old, take up skating at the graffiti-covered structure.

“It’s really the only thing Vashon has going for it, from my point of view,” he said. “It may be expensive to operate, but it also gets used more than the other parks.”

Steve Schrock, a supervisor who was also at the skatepark that day, said that so far this year the park has seen 1,050 uses by more than 300 kids, about 75 of whom are regulars. “The numbers are holding their own,” he said.

Schrock, who is a trainee substance abuse counselor at Vashon Youth & Family Services, said the park provides a safe activity on Vashon, where youth often complain there’s nothing to do and where alcohol and drugs use is significantly higher than the state average.

“We need this. … Some kids are not a good fit for organized sports,” he said, adding that some parents can’t provide the structure needed to participate it sports.

While Reid believes the rummage sale could become an annual fundraiser to subsidize the park, she also knows usage has to increase to keep the park operating.

She and McCabe are working together on a campaign to increase awareness of the skatepark, hoping to boost attendance and prevent the same thing from happening next year. They believe many parents and potential skaters may associate skating with illegal activities and misbehavior or would use the park if they knew more about it and some of the kids using it.

Rauen, too, thinks some Islanders have a misperception of skaters. “People jump to conclusions,” he said. “They think skateboarders are delinquents or something.”

In the new campaign, Reid and McCabe hope to paint BARC as a place where kids work hard and gain confidence. Fun, edgy posters are going up around town that feature skaters of all ages — including a couple girls — with quotes about why they skate at BARC.

“They may dress funny, but they’re incredible athletes,” McCabe said. “You immediately see that what they do requires a heck of a lot of practice and working to be their personal best.”

Reid thinks that putting a face on the kids who frequent the skatepark will encourage others to use it more.

“As people walk around town, they’ll see the posters and they’ll know at least one of the kids. …  You could have a valedictorian skating on a board, as well as a kid who just finished an art show.”

Rauen and other skaters at BARC last week said they were happy to help with the rummage sale to keep the skatepark going. However, they added, what they’re really looking forward to is seeing the Island finally get an outdoor skatepark — something considered superior in the skating world to indoor parks with wood ramps.

The skaters seemed to have done their homework. They recited how much a small, concrete skatepark would cost and noted that such parks have been installed in Greenlake, Capitol Hill and even Forks, a place they pointed out has a smaller population than Vashon.

“Skating on wood ramps is a compromise,” Rauen said.

McCabe said the outdoor project is still in the works. Fundraising has been slow, and just when the district came close to raising the $120,000 required to install the first and largest phase of the concrete park, an unexpected permitting issue put them more than $40,000 behind. They hope to wrap up the permitting process this month.

“We will go back to the designers and ask what they can give us for what we have left,” she said.

Eventually, McCabe hopes, the outdoor park will be a boost to the indoor program, and she’s  investigating other ways to make the skatepark sustainable. Though the district has yet to decide whether admission should be raised again or if it can find another source of revenue, McCabe said she’s pleased to see parents as well as skaters stepping up to help. What’s more, she said, the BARC stewards group will soon receive its non-profit status, putting significant grants for the outdoor park within reach.

“All those things look very good for both the indoor and outdoor skatepark,” she said. “This could be our year when all those dreams come true.”

 

Items for the rummage sale can be dropped off at the skatepark on Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 27 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The rummage sale will take place on Dec. 2, 3 and 4 at the skatepark. For more information or to arrange the pick-up of items, contact Allison Reid at 898-1013 or alli@allireid.com.

 

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