Thursday, May 29, 2003

Kids with wheels test-driving park

Hills a challenge; no one hassles them

By Brenna R. Kelly
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Josh Solomon, 17, of Burlington, flies off a ramp on inline skates at the new Florence/Boone County Skatepark.
(Patrick Reddy photos)
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FLORENCE - Nathan Wooten and Brian Gerhardstein spent the morning doing ice pick grinds and abubacas - something they can't do anywhere in the Tristate but Florence.

Whizzing up concrete ramps and riding down rails at the Florence/Boone County Skatepark, the Cincinnati teens were thrilled to be able to do the BMX bike tricks without being hassled.

"We won't get in trouble here," said Wooten, 18. "If you ride downtown, you'll get a ticket real quick."

Skateboarders, in-line skaters and BMX bikers, especially, have been awaiting the opening of the skatepark on Ky. 18. Though the 20,000-square-foot park doesn't officially open until 1 p.m. Saturday, it has been getting a good test run this week.

"Once the fence came down, we couldn't keep them out," said Vanessa Lenear, Florence parks and recreation administrator.

[IMAGE] Jacob Cain, 4, gets a helping hand from his mom, Lisa, as he tries out a ramp at the new Florence/Boone County Skatepark.
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As workers planted trees and painted a shelter Tuesday, kids zipped around the park on skateboards, in-line skates, bikes and scooters.

Kim Schulze, of Florence, sat on a concrete ledge and watched her three sons zoom around the park on in-line skates.

The boys, Jesse, 8; Josiah, 11; and Jordan, 12, woke her up Tuesday morning begging to go to the park.

"We drove by here every morning on the way to school, so they had been watching the progress," she said.

The boys have been in-line skating since they were 4. With three boys all into the same sport, the family has traveled to Louisville to skate at the Extreme Sports Park several times and paid to skate at Ollie's, a private indoor skatepark in Florence.

But now they will mostly skate at the new park.

What: Florence/Boone County Skatepark
Where: Ky. 18 and Ewing Boulevard
When: Saturday 1 p.m. grand opening ceremony and skating demonstrations; the park is open every day from dawn to dusk
Cost: Free
"It's close, it's something they all enjoy doing, and it's free," Schulze said.

The skatepark has three areas: a street course, a street plaza with rails and ramps, and a bowl area. Park rules "encourage" users to wear helmets and pads, but they aren't required. Also, anyone 12 and under is "encouraged" to have parental supervision, the rules state.

The city does not staff the park and users are at their own risk, said Lenear.

"We are not liable (for injuries). It's no different than if you come play football," Lenear said. The state's recreational immunity law applies to the park, she said.

Florence and Boone County split the cost of the $1 million park.

The skatepark is one of the largest in the area and the only one in the Tristate to allow BMX bikers.

Bikers are allowed at Louisville's park, a 40,000-square-foot facility. But they aren't welcome at Ohio's Baker Bowl Skate Park in Middletown.

If there are a lot of complaints about bikers at the Florence park, the city may consider allowing bikes only on certain days, Lenear said.

"But so far it's been working out," she said.

An advisory committee of BMX bikers, in-line skaters and skateboarders helped create the rules and will serve as a liaison between the park users and the city.

Jeff Meinecke, committee member and biker, said he was happy to be able to have input.

"It doesn't usually go that way," said the 30-year-old Lawrenceburg father of two. "They really listened to us."

BMX bikers like to ride the same terrain as skateboarders and have an even harder time finding a place to ride, he said.

"To go out and ride a really nice place and not get hassled, it's going to be nice," he said.

Also on the committee is a 28-year-old skateboard shop owner, a 17-year-old in-line skater who missed skateparks when he moved to Burlington from California, a 14-year-old skateboarder and five other park users.

Skateparks are becoming popular around the country. The Web site lists 488 in the United States.

The number of people who skateboard is increasing each year. From 1996 to 2001 participation increased 106 percent, according to a study by the National Sporting Goods Association.

In 2002, according to the study, 9.7 million Americans ages 7 or older skateboarded, 15.3 million people rode mountain bikes on the road and 18.8 million people participated in inline skating.

Skateboarding gives teens an alternative to team sports, said Jonathan Mull, 28, a committee member and skateboard shop owner.

"It's a real action sport," Mull said. "It beats sitting at home playing video games."

Because of the growing number of teens who are picking up a skateboard, skating or riding a bike, the Florence park is expected to be crowded this summer.

"The real problem," Mull said, "is going to be that it's not going to be big enough."


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