Stephen Spence was nervous as he stepped up before the Town Of Pulaski’s Council members. And with good reason. Spence and his 15 or so compatriots don’t “look” like your stereotypical “clean cut American” young men …stretched ears and tattoos, tattered jeans, colorful T-shirts, and ball caps. He was sure their appearance alone was going to make this the same old short conversation that was sure to contain a healthy amount of scolding and disdain for him and his group of skateboarders.
He nervously took a deep breath and respectfully begin: “Sirs, I, personally, feel in both the interests of the youth of Pulaski and myself, that there needs to be an increase in development and repair at the Skatepark.” And for the next 30 minutes, he and other skateboarders held a conversation with the members of Town Council. It was an education for them, the Council and audience members like myself.
The Skateboard Park was built by the Town of Pulaski in 2004 in MacGill Park at a cost of around $46,000. The skateboard park would actually be converted from one of three tennis courts in MacGill Park. It would be fenced off and have a small set of bleachers and a bike rack.
Greater Pulaski Alliance Director Sally Bush, who met with about 18 skateboarders and some of their parents on Aug. 7, told the council that the kids and families had offered to hold car washes, bake sales and raffles to help raise some of the funds for a park.
The Council welcomed their offer and, as a gesture of cooperation, voted unanimously to use approximately $28,000 in town surplus money to get the project started.
“I think this sends a good message to our young people who say there’s nothing to do here,” said new council member Joel Burchett Jr.http://www.roanoke.com/news/pulaski-votes-to-construct-skate-park/article_442452e8-e7e1-5883-b678-72c9832a02e5.html
Note: Limited research indicates by May of 2005 the New Park was in use.
The Park has been in continuous use since 2005 but the upkeep and maintenance have not been continuous. Disrepair and questions of safety have settled since then.
Spence, Jacob Hodges, and others told Council that gravel from the driveway and parking lot leading up to the park often landed on the already-broken pavement surrounding the location of the skating ramp. Spence pointed to his friend and fellow skater Curtis Cox, 20, whose face showed the effects of “road rash” after his board met up with one of those pebbles and the pebble won. Multiple cracks in the flooring at the Skatepark have caused skaters concerned about safety to use the nearby tennis court that had its nets removed. Skaters also reported two poles sticking up at the court that pose additional hazards.
The Council members listened attentively, addressing first their concerns about safety. Council member Kidd asked them if removing the fence around the tennis court would help. The skateboarders agreed, saying they skate there anyway, and that the ramp could be moved.
Councilman East said the town needs to address safety first, especially removing the poles at the site. Council Member Kidd asked Town Manager Shawn Utt if this was something that could be accomplished soon. Utt said the town would take care of it the next day.
Council pointed out that the town only had $25,000 set aside for parks/playgrounds, and suggested they split the cost. Council member Goodman suggested the skateboarders commit to fundraising for the park repairs and improvements. He added, “Let’s find a way we can work to make it work”.
Mayor Glenn asked for Spence, Hodge and Cox to be a liaison between the skateboarders and the town.
The skateboarders were very happy and maybe surprised at the outcome of the meeting, surprised mostly that the Council listened to them. They acknowledged that a “lot of the time, skateboarders don’t have the best reputation, but they wanted to go there and show them we’re actual people, too, and we deserve a place to go that we can feel safe, where we can actually come together and have a good time without worrying about being hurt.” “Knowing that representatives of Pulaski and the mayor heard us, and listened to us and looked at us as people who want to make a change for this town, it makes me very glad. You know, it’s been a long time since that’s happened in Pulaski.” “ They instantly heard us,” Cox adds, saying he and Spence first discussed talking to Town Council three years ago. (Southwest Times, April 12, page 2)
Within a week of the meeting a Go Fund me page was created. The first meeting between Mayor Glenn and the Skateboarders has occurred. As of this writing, $1000 of the $10,000 has been donated. Not bad for less than a month.
Efforts like this deserve our recognition and support. This is another example of how community involvement can bring about needed changes. Often, as in this case, concerns are not known to elected officials and town officers and will go unaddressed not consciously but because they are unaware of the needs or problems.
I was so glad I stayed at that meeting and heard their presentation. Their presentation impressed me greatly. Until that Council Meeting I was unaware the Town of Pulaski even had a Skatepark. After hearing that we do indeed have one, I had to go and see it for myself. Believe me; it is in worse condition than described at Council.
Pulaski is a sports oriented culture…just think Friday Night Cougar Football,Yankee Baseball, VT, UVA, RU sports. How often have we heard the lament: “There is nothing in town for the youth to do.” Here is one alternative sport that is thriving in this town, even though unknown or unnoticed by many. Here is a sport that at least 25-30 young people engage in every day. There is no glamour, no headlines, no stars, no scholarships in it for them. They participate in it for the purest reason…the love of the sport.
They are willing to work to improve their facilities not only for themselves but to help improve the Town of Pulaski and attract skaters to our town so they can see what citizens and Town Council can accomplish by working together.
It won’t happen overnight – all involved know that – but it is a beginning and that’s a big step forward in our future together. HIGH-FIVE to these young folk (I know, showing my age) and I hope they will inspire you to step forward and make your dreams for our town realities!