Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

New skate park gets mixed reviews
Skateboarders love it, former alderman hates the litter

by John Halverson

September 20, 2012

Former city councilman Dick Peterson makes no bones about it.

He wasn’t a fan of spending money on a new skate park in the first place.

“I’m a conservative,” he said.

But he’s also a realist.

“It’s here now.”

He wants to know how best to control the litter there. He’s been watching it collect. And he questions whether those who frequent the place are up to no good.

We visited the park, located next to Eastview School, a couple times in the last few weeks.

When we were looking around one day, Dick eyed someone picking up trash.

“You ought to get a medal,” he said.

That someone was hardly the stereotypical skateboarder. He was older. In his 40s as it turned out.

Dick told the man, in somewhat colorful language, that he thought the park was a bad idea.

“Not necessarily,” the visitor said diplomatically.

As it turned out the visitor was from Stevens Point.

He and a buddy, who appeared a few minutes later, said they had fought for a skate park in Point. Apparently word has gotten around about the Lake Geneva skate park. Not only had those two learned of it, but the first skaters Dick and I talked to had come from Rockford.

“This place is awesome,” one of the Rockford contingent said.

“It’s really well-built,” said one of the guys from Stevens Point.

But what to do about the trash?

The visitors suggested that the leaders of the skateboard community had to set examples and police the place themselves. After all, they were the ones who promised an orderly environment when they campaigned for the park.

They also suggested security cameras might be helpful — something which had been discussed previously. They suggested that it should be OK for the riders to smoke and drink if they were of age, but they were told that drinking wasn’t allowed in city parks.

“Well, there you have it,” one of them said, indicating that rules had to be followed.

Peterson thinks there should be no smoking and no food at the park. Clearly, on the days we observed, cigarette butts numbered in the dozens, if not hundreds. Hard to believe that these amazing athletes would be heavy smokers, but apparently they are.

After Dick left I talked to a few other skateboarders. One of them was Tim Fesenmaier, who said he was one of the prime supporters of the park. Fesenmaier said he came down to the park just about every morning to clean up.

One of the stereotypes of the skateboarders is that they’re tattooed thugs with their hats on backwards. Clearly there were plenty of tattoos whipping around the park. I had to remember that I have a tattoo too, though it’s a bit more modest. I also had a new perspective when I found an Iraq War veteran.

While psychological evaluation isn’t practical in such an environment, most of the guys I talked to didn’t seem like thugs at all. They were like my kids or the way I was when I was their age. Nonetheless the tattoos and the demeanor might be a turn off for a more family-oriented visitor.

I’m not ignoring the presumption that there could be some stuff going on. It is true that the skatelite coating was ripped off the old skatepark— killing a $7,500 sale by the city — though there’s no reason to believe there were skateboarders involved.

As for the litter, someone noted that our soccer and baseball fields are also littered after tournaments, though I’d match up the number of cigarette butts here with any of those events. And, for such good athletes, these skateboarders have pitiful aim. Interesting how so much trash can make a trail to the trash cans but so little finds its way into them.

As for the park itself, as Dick says, it’s here, so let’s make the best of it.

I do think spending about $500,000 in TIF money for a relatively small part of the population makes it difficult for the city to justify not spending just a little more to buy the old Geneva Theater — for a relatively small part of the population.

Dick has said he’d volunteer to be among those who would watch over the area to make sure rules were followed and trash was collected. Supervision was something that was discussed previously, too, but rejected because of the cost of hiring someone. Dick said a volunteer network could be formed.

“But they don’t want me,” he said, indicating he was from a different political party than the city administration. “I’m a conservative.”

I don’t think cameras would hurt.

What did become clear, at least on the day I visited, is that many of the skateboarders aren’t locals. If the new park was perceived as a great place for local kids to congregate, it may not fulfill that goal.

Clearly, the leaders of the skateboard crew need to do a better job of maintaining their facility or they’ll catch more flack, reinforce stereotypes and maybe kill the golden goose.

One thing Dick said that’s telling, too. He did make note of a day when a father came over with one of his young children. It seemed to be a poignant moment, a moment of how it should be.

And could be.

He suggested there might be certain hours for families to use the facility.

New things are hard for a lot of people to swallow.

This summer, from a public relations perspective, the city had one hit and one miss.

Clearly, the outdoor eating idea has been a hit with both visitors and restaurant owners. For too long, city councils rejected the concept. They were wrong.

On the other hand, the new parking system has certainly upset a lot of locals. I’m sure tweaks will come about to improve it, but it certainly caused some waves in the community.

So which way will the skateboard park fall?

That chapter is yet to be written.

Like the wheels on their skateboards, that answer goes round and round and where it stops nobody knows.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Lake Geneva Regional News.