Tonganoxie youths lobby for skate park
City panel considers request
Tonganoxie boasts a swimming pool, ball fields, basketball courts and a slew of places for area children to enjoy themselves.
But youths who like to skateboard, rollerblade or bicycle have few choices.
Now, a group of local boys is trying to change that. They have been knocking on doors with petitions, going to meetings and doing whatever it takes to get a skate park built in Tonganoxie a park much like one in Lawrence.
The local boys have sought help from local businesses and the Tonganoxie Recreation Commission.
In fact, four children presented the idea to the recreation commission Thursday at its monthly meeting.
They showed the commission photographs of the Lawrence park and explained what they had done so far to make a similar park a reality in Tonganoxie.
Mark Zerrer, commission director, said the commission had taken the youths' idea seriously and were looking into it.
"It sounds like they're serious and have made some strides, so were taking a serious look at it," Zerrer said.
Zerrer said several community members have offered to donate work and materials to the effort, though there has been no decision on a location for the park.
At the Lawrence skate park, just west of Iowa Street on Ninth Street, children can ride their bikes, boards or blades on half-pipes, quarter-pipes or a variety of sizes of jumps. They can also ride the grind rails set up there for just that purpose.
That's exactly what area youth say they want.
"We're just trying to make a place where we can go and ride bikes and skateboards and blades," said Luke Stevens, 14, Tonganoxie. "A place they can go and not have to worry about cops and other people getting on them."
Stevens and fellow petitioner Kyle Wedd said they have some first-hand knowledge of what happens when the authorities catch them having their fun in town.
"If you were riding a rail in the city, and the cops caught you," Stevens said, "you'd probably get in trouble."
"We've had people yell at us before, and tell us to leave and stuff like that," Wedd said. "Basically there's no good place to do it here in town."
So far, about 300 have signed the petition, and more than just younger people are buying into the idea of a skate park in Tonganoxie.
"Even some of the older people in town that have kids or grandkids that skateboard or bike support it," Stevens said. "They think it would be good for them to have a place to do what makes them happy."
What typically has turned off parents and police about skate parks is the danger.
But Tim Laurent, facilities operations supervisor for the Lawrence Department of Parks and Recreation, said the advantages far outweigh the small amount of danger that actually exists.
He said and the Tonganoxie children agreed that the sport isn't anymore dangerous than, say, basketball, as long as skaters and bikers wear safety equipment.
That equipment includes helmets and knee and elbow pads, said Laurent, who worked closely in the Lawrence park's creation and continues to help keep it running.
"We were a little worried about safety at first: The thing gets used non-stop," Laurent said. "But the only problem we've had so far has been with graffiti."
But, the two Tonganoxie boys say, that type of antisocial behavior is just what the park would keep them away from.
"Well, if kids are hanging out on the streets they might start doing drugs and hanging out with bad kids," Stevens said. "If there was a skate park it would give kids something else they could do."
And all they want to do is skate.
"If you're not really into anything else like basketball and other sports, you get into riding your bike or skateboard more," Wedd said. "
But the sport has many of the same positive qualities of the other, more mainstream sports.
"Like when you do a trick you didn't think you could do, it's really fun and it makes you feel good like you've accomplished something," Stevens said.
"I think anything's important to whoever's doing it," he said. "If it's important to you than that's the only thing that really matters."
Several local businesses have shown their support of the park by allowing the boys to leave petitions at their establishments.
Those businesses are Himpel Lumber, B&J Country Mart, B&J Amoco, The Studio, Holst Pharmacy, Daniel's BBQ, Casey's General Store, Phillips 66, Mom and Pop's Ice Cream, Mutual Bank and Trust, Snappy's, Mo's and Mr. Goodcents.
The boys said they were surprised by how much support they have gotten.
"And what's great is that not one single person's turned us down," Wedd said.
Laurent said Lawrence made a good move in building its skate park.
"It's been very well-received by the community and overall, feedback has been pretty positive," he said. "It's real busy sometimes, but we'd be disappointed if we built it and nobody showed up."