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Water doesn’t stop skaters from rolling
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Water covers much of the surface at the skate park inside J. Frank Wilson Park. The standing-water problem has not been resolved, but it has not kept enthusiasts from using the facility, officials have said. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

By DOUG POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A problem of standing water at the skateboard facility in J. Frank Wilson Park has not been resolved, but it has not kept enthusiasts from using its ramps, mini-ramps and funbox.

The skate park drew rave reviews when it made its debut on On Oct. 14, 2010. However, concerns and questions arose early last year about hazardous standing water on the surfaces of the skate park. Puddles were roughly half an inch deep.

Martinsville City Manager Leon E. Towarnicki said the city addressed the concerns as best as it could by placing “squeegees” in the corners of the area for skateboarders to use to push the standing water off the surface.

“Unfortunately, the (squeegees) didn’t stay there very long — they disappeared,” Towarnicki said. “We replaced them on a number of occasions, but the same thing occurred. So after a while, we just quit doing that.”

Jamie Radford, 22, who skates in the park a couple of times a week, said he brings his own squeegee to the park. When it rains and he wants to skateboard, he breaks out the squeegee which he said does a “really good job” at removing standing water.

Ethan Harr, a Martinsville native who helped design the park, agreed with Radford. He said most skateboarders provide their own squeegees and try to “take care of our own skate park.”

“It would be really cool if (the Martinsville Parks and Recreation) had a couple of guys come down with squeegees or even just came and dropped off squeegees and picked them back up after days when it rained,” said Harr, who recently moved to Richmond.

The standing water has sent some skaters back to their old stomping grounds — sometimes in Martinsville’s business district. That negates the original concept of the park, which was to keep the skaters off public and private property.

Other skateboarders chose to travel to skateboard parks elsewhere but the cost to do so, along with some admission charges at some facilities, adds up, Radford said.

“You’d have to go to an indoor park which could be in Greensboro, N.C., Graham, N.C., ..., ” he said. “That’s about the closest. There’s a couple of other ones that are around here, but they’re not indoor.”

A revised surface to the skatepark, which was built on top of an old tennis court, was suggested at one point to help with the standing water. But due to cost, that plan was scratched and no future construction is in the works, Towarnicki added.

Towarnicki said he believes the skateboard park is safe and has accomplished its mission of keeping skateboarders off inappropriate areas, such as benches and sidewalks in uptown.

“The idea behind the skatepark was to create a good location where they could go, equipped with the ramps and the jumps and the various pieces of equipment apparatus there that would challenge their skills,” Towarnicki said. “So to that extent, it served that purpose.”

“It certainly could serve as an opportunity to maybe keep kids off the street or out of the parking lots and areas where they could get in trouble,” he said. “How effective that’s being, I’m not sure how we could measure that. But it has had some effect on what we have seen in the uptown area. Previously, there were a fair amount of complaints about skateboarders in the uptown area and that seems to have declined somewhat in recent years with the operation of the skate park.”

Also, early on there were noise complaints from neighbors near the park because of the metal ramps and how it “echos” throughout the area when skaters ride on them, Towarnicki said. But he said he hasn’t received a complaint in “quite a while.”

Radford said he has seen as many as 30 people in the park at one time before and added a majority of them were skateboarding.

Harr said the skateboarding teams are growing in Martinsville. He added that he would still love to open up a skate shop, which he has been in the process of doing in recent years.

The plan back in 2010, when former director of Martinsville Parks and Recreation Gary Cody was in charge, was to make Wilson Park a “temporary” home for the skateboard facility and later expand to other parts of the city with mobile equipment.

Towarnicki said that is no longer the case as the city has other things on its plate.

“This park seems to be functioning well, that’s not to say that at some point in the future plans don’t change. But obviously funding would be an issue, location would be an issue and the park that’s there seems to be functioning well and it seems to be accepted,” he said. “Unless something better came along with a substantial amount of funding attached to it, with at least for the foreseeable future, I couldn’t see any changes.”

However, Harr said he has been getting positive feedback from the city council and still hopes to expand the park at some point in the future.

“It’s been a while since I’ve talked to them,” Harr said. “ ... I’m still working with people in the community to donate materials, and donate time, stuff like that. Hopefully it will work out and hopefully I can change their minds.”


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