Teens support proposed skate park
As sturdy as he's built, it's easy to think Remington Schmidt is a football player.
Get him on a BMX bike, however, and he'll show you his real obsession.
"It's not just a thing to do. It's a lifestyle," said Schmidt, a 16-year-old home-schooled student from Dickinson and an avid biker.
For Schmidt and his friends, however, living that life has become complicated.
In the two years following the city's decision to remove the skate park in Eagles Park, Schmidt said the lives of bikers and skateboarders in Dickinson have changed. To continue pursuing their passions, they've literally taken to the streets to find riding spots.
Often, it takes them where no one wants them to be.
"It's hard to find spots," said Christian Mason, a 16-year-old student at Southwest Community High School, "and when we do, we'll get kicked out."
Mason and Schmidt say they just want a place to bike and skate legally and safely without fear of persecution.
For that reason, the teenagers say they are supporters of a new $200,000 skate park proposed by the Dickinson Park Board.
James Kramer, director of Dickinson Parks and Recreation, said that after two years, the city finally feels ready to move forward with construction of a new skate park.
"We're as close as we've ever been," Kramer said.
The Dickinson Park Board has discussed building a new skate park since before the Eagles Park facility was dismantled in May 2008 following repeated reports of vandalism and mischief in the area.
With a $25,000 Tony Hawk Foundation grant to help defer costs and a spot north of the West River Community Center picked for a new skate park, Kramer said the process is entering the home stretch.
Kramer said the hope is to put the facility out to bid in early April, construct the skate park over a six- to nine-week window during the summer and have it ready for use in the fall.
"We've really taken our time," Kramer said. "We want to make sure we do this right and it's in the right spot. From all indications, it feels like the right place for it."
Spohn Ranch, the park's conceptual design firm, formulated the park as something of a street course featuring rails, ramps, steps, a half-pipe and a bowl. Kramer said the design is 95 percent concrete whereas the old facility used more metal, creating issues during the summer heat. It's also larger, measuring out at roughly 7,000 square feet.
Regardless of its size or modern amenities, skaters and bikers say they just want somewhere to ride again.
"At this point we just want something to have," Schmidt said. "It's not how great it is. It doesn't have to be X Games. We just need some place to go where we can fit in."
Ron Van Doorne, a senior patrol officer and school resource officer for the Dickinson Police Department, deals with teenagers who skateboard and bike on a regular basis.
He saw the positive impacts of the old skate park and has since witnessed its former users run into trouble as they try and find places in Dickinson where they can apply their crafts.
"It's been tough for them because they kind of get run off of every place where they go," Van Doorne said.
The old skate park, Schmidt and Mason estimate, had more than 100 users on peak days. Van Doorne said he often spoke with kids who traveled from throughout western North Dakota to use the facility.
"It (the park) was like a big family," Schmidt said.
That family, Van Doorne said, had a pointlessly bad reputation.
"The kids get kind of a bad rap because they dress a little different. They're skaters and that's what they are," Van Doorne said. "... I can tell you right now, that people who say they're all druggies or smoking dope, that doesn't wash with me, because I don't know if you've ridden a skateboard in the last couple years, but it's pretty tough to ride one of those sober let alone stoned."
Van Doorne and Kramer both said they believe users of a new skate park would span far beyond the teenage crowd.
Kramer has met adults who still skateboard or bike and say they would enjoy using the proposed facility.
"These are 40-year-old adults," Kramer said. "I was surprised. There is a group of people in town, older adults, who would use the facility. It's kind of a section that we may have overlooked."
Mason said he believes skateboarding and extreme biking are on the rise, and the proposed park is only one reason why.
On Friday, Starboard, a store that will offer items that cater to youth culture and fashion that surround extreme sports opened in Prairie Hills Mall. It also has a skate shop.
Another store, StaySick Skate & Ink, is scheduled to open soon in the T-Rex Mall. It plans to sell skateboarding apparel and equipment and have a tattoo parlor.
"I think it (skateboarding and biking) is going to blow up," Mason said. "It's going to be way more popular now."
Van Doorne said building a new skate park wouldn't cater to everyone. But, he added that it would help alleviate headaches faced by the police department and business owners while giving a segment of the city's youth another recreational choice.
"Not everybody plays baseball, not everybody plays football and gets involved in other sports," Van Doorne said. "... Maybe not a huge segment of our kids use the skate park, but not everything is for the huge segments, either."