Saving the skatepark

The final straw for Julie Tucker came when her 7-year-old son, Isaiah, fell off a broken ramp at the Hood River Rotary Skatepark last summer and hurt his finger.

She’d long complained to the Hood River Parks and Recreation District about the decrepit state of the park and the dangers it posed to kids skating there, but her complaints went unheeded.

When Isaiah got hurt, she’d had enough. She marched into the Parks and Recreation office and demanded something be done.

“I was fed up,” Tucker said. District Manager Lori Stirn was just settling into her new position, and she was all ears. But limited resources — spread among all the city’s parks — prevented the District from devoting the necessary money and personnel to upgrading the park. So Tucker decided to do something about it herself and in September formed the Skatepark Revival Committee.

The committee, led by Tucker and comprised of volunteers, is responsible for raising money for ongoing improvements at the park. The Parks District manages the city-owned property at the corner of 20th and Wasco streets.

“Lori has been absolutely wonderful,” Tucker said. “We just decided to work together and she’s been really supportive.”

For her part, Tucker has spent the past nine months living, eating and breathing the skatepark. She works as relief staff at The Next Door’s Klahre House, an alternative school. But she works only a few hours a week in between home schooling Isaiah, tending to her 2-year-old son, Irie, and keeping up with her duties as coordinator of the Skatepark Revival Committee.

“We go without a lot of things for me to be able to do this,” Tucker said.

But as Isaiah got more and more into skateboarding, which he began doing at age 3, Tucker and her husband, Anthony Arnold, decided that getting the park back in shape was worth sacrificing for.

“We spend time most days there,” Tucker said. Isaiah has competed in skate competitions around Oregon and Washington and will travel to California for a competition this summer.

“He just loves it so much,” Tucker said.

Tucker also saw the task of reviving the skatepark as an educational opportunity for Isaiah. In “unschooling,” the homeschooling method Tucker subscribes to, community involvement plays a big role.

“It was a perfect chance for me to become involved in the community and have him get involved, too,” Tucker said.

When Tucker realized little would happen at the skatepark without outside funding, she began researching skateparks around the state and the country, finding out how organizers had raised money for them. With help from other local skating enthusiasts — many of whom had been involved in the skatepark since its inception in 1996 — she also began forming a plan for how the park should look.

Input from skaters and study of other parks helped Tucker form a four-phase master plan for the skatepark, drafted up by local engineer Charlie Warren. The plan includes thousands of square feet of skate courses, several ramps and bowls and a playground area.

In February Tucker contacted Dreamland Skateparks, a Northwest-based company that has built skateparks around the region as well as in Europe.

“They’re rated the best in the world,” Tucker said, noting that the company built the legendary Burnside skatepark under the Burnside Bridge in Portland, one of the first skateparks in Oregon. “Their work speaks for itself.” Dreamland signed on and has already completed the park’s first phase, a 3,000-square-foot concrete street course.

It costs more up front to built concrete skateparks, Tucker said, but they’re more cost-effective in the long run than wooden ramps.

“They require little if any future maintenance,” said Tucker, adding that the park’s original ramps were built of wood or had wood bases. “That’s the problem, they just fall apart over time.”

Tucker is hard at work raising money for the next phase of the skatepark, a concrete bowl that she hopes to have built by the end of summer. Some remaining Parks and Recreation District bond money will go toward it, but much of the cost will have to come from community donations.

Tucker has been selling tiles this spring as part of what she calls the Mosaic Community Art Project. The 6-by-6 inch slate tiles, which cost $60, are engraved with the purchaser’s name (individual or business) and will be placed on a mural surrounding a glass mosaic rendition of a skater. The finished piece will be permanently displayed at the park.

Another fundraiser takes place Saturday with a community barbecue at the skatepark. (See sidebar.) Ongoing fundraising includes grant writing, bottle drives and car washes. Tucker is even making the drive for skatepark funding personal; she’s trying to lose 100 pounds by Christmas and is seeking pledges, betting that she’ll be able to do it. She’s even contacted the Oprah show asking if Oprah Winfrey would match whatever money she raises.

“They like weight loss stories,” Tucker said. She said the show’s producers called her back and expressed interest.

“We’ll see where it goes,” Tucker said.

Tucker took on the revival of the skatepark with a self-imposed time limit of two years. But she hopes to be well into Phase 3 — or further — by the time she passes the torch. And she’ll seek someone to take over for her who shares her and her family’s passion for the park.

“I will actively try to find someone who has their heart and soul into it like I do,” she said. In the meantime, she’ll be putting in more hours than ever at the skatepark; Irie already has his own skateboard and seems to be following in his big brother’s footsteps.

“It’s all about skating,” Tucker said.

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Skatepark Timeline

Compiled by Julie Tucker

The origins of the Hood River Skatepark date back to 1996 when Chris Carlson and a group of local teenagers approached Paul Daniels, then Hood River Parks and Recreation director, about providing a designated place for skateboarding. Up until then, skateboarding in Hood River was relegated to backyard ramps and street skating around the city, much to the dismay of local merchants and police.

Daniels identified an undeveloped piece of park-designated property at the corner of 20th and Wasco streets. The roadbed along Wasco Street was re-paved and homemade boxes and wooden ramps were set up. The fledgling park became the center of skateboarding in Hood River County.

In the spring of 1997, local residents Dirk Gidney and Garry Koop came on board and would direct the growth of the skatepark for the next few years. Construction of what is now known as the Medium Half-pipe was finished that summer and was the first major, permanent ramp at the park.

Landscaping work was also done that year, including the removal of poison oak and blackberry bushes, and grass was planted. The Mine Half-pipe and the original Street Course Fun Box also were completed. Community involvement became a vital part of the skatepark as major funding came from both the Hood River Rotary Club and United Way, along with fundraisers during the Gorge Games.

The next year, 1998, brought continued growth as more Street Course components were built and an upper stretch of the old Jaymar Road was re-paved, providing a safe way for park users to enter from Cascade Avenue.

In 1999, the park had its first foray into the use of concrete. Tom Modrich and a group of local contractors took on the task of constructing the Concrete Bowl that lies next to the Wasco Street entrance. It was also Modrich who worked with Dirk Gidney to help build the Vert Ramp using parts of an old Plexiglas half-pipe. The Vert Ramp was originally surfaced using Masonite, but was resurfaced in Skatelite in June 2000.

The four-phase master plan for the skatepark includes construction of more ramps and bowls, as well as a playground and restrooms.

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Fundraiser

A community barbecue fundraiser for the Hood River Rotary Skatepark will be held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the park, located at the corner of 20th and Wasco streets. Hamburgers and hotdogs, as well as vegetarian gardenburgers, will be available, along with drinks and dessert. Cost is $5, with all proceeds going to build the Community Bowl, a large concrete skating bowl at the park.

Donations also will be taken for the mini-ramp currently at the park. The Skatepark Revival Committee wants to have the ramp removed to make way for improvements at the park. The person who donates the most money will be able to take the ramp home.

Slate tiles to be added to the Mosaic Community Art Project also will be available for purchase. For more information, or to participate in fundraising for the skatepark, contact Julie Tucker at 386-3928.

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