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If you build it, they will come

Skateboarding might be this generation's backyard baseball. If so, then a community skate park is this generation's neighborhood baseball field. Back in the day, if you didn't have a field, you played in the street and hit home runs through old Mrs.

skatepark photo
Chris Dixon gets some air on the public skate park at the Wheeler Field Athletic Complex. Photo by Abel Gustafson/Budgeteer News.

Skateboarding might be this generation's backyard baseball. If so, then a community skate park is this generation's neighborhood baseball field. Back in the day, if you didn't have a field, you played in the street and hit home runs through old Mrs. Parson's front window. But when an appropriate venue is built, skaters are able to partake in their pastime without damaging public or private property.

This is just one of many reasons that prompted the construction of an outdoor skate park at the Wheeler Field Athletic Complex in West Duluth.

"It was basically people from the public coming forward to the Parks & Recreation department," said department manager Kathy Bergen. "They were saying 'This is something we see is needed. How can we make it happen?'"

It was, in essence, a grassroots effort.

"Youths and their parents and other citizens that are supportive of youth activities just came forward and worked on it," said Bergen. "I don't know that it could have happened any other way," she added.

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Since the grand opening in June, skateboarders have been giving the park a thumbs-up, in part because they helped design it.

"They asked us 'What do you want at your park?'" said Chris Dixon, 19, of Duluth. "And they did give us what everyone asked for."

"I like it because it is an all-concrete park," said Dixon. "The nearest concrete parks are Fargo (ND) and Hayward (WI)."

I suspect that skateboards and skate shoes are fitted with magnets or some kind of adhesive tape, because the command that many of the skaters have over their skateboards is incredible to watch. In a trick that is performed by even many of the younger skateboarders, a skater will approach a horizontal rail, jump up off of the skateboard, and bring the board up into the air with them using only his or her feet. Then they twist 180 degrees and land perfectly balanced as they slide down the length of the rail. Then they will jump back down to the pavement, twisting another 180 degrees and landing back squarely on the rolling wheels. This all is performed in two seconds flat.

Some restrictions do apply, however.

Because of the temptation to perform this trick on every raised flat surface in sight -- from park benches to salad bars -- Duluth has passed legislation that regulates when and where one can ride a skateboard. In interests of public safety and protection of property, Section 45-6 of the Duluth City Code states that skateboarding and inline skating are prohibited at all times in Canal Park and on the grounds of the Duluth Public Library and the Duluth Civic Center (which includes the courthouse and city hall). These spots were very tempting to skaters in search of railings, steps and other obstacles. The code also prohibits riding a skateboard on the sidewalk of a business district between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 9 p.m.

These laws make the community skate park at Wheeler that much more valuable.

Marshall Seablom, store manager of Zumiez, a Miller Hill Mall shop that skateboarders frequent for clothing and gear, said the skate park at Wheeler is a great outlet for the growing Duluth skateboarding

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community.

"(Wheeler skate park) gives the kids somewhere to go," Seablom said. "If you don't want kids downtown, you have to have something (else) for them."

It's not just for kids, either. Skateboarding is beginning to cross barriers and reach a wide and diverse demographic.

"Now we are starting to see it come full-circle," said Seablom. "Those kids in the late '70s and early '80s that were the rebellious teens are adults now. And I think they are pushing the sport to their children in a positive light.

"I see a lot of dads with kids at the skate park, all wearing helmets, all skating together. I think that's a really great thing. I think in the future, in the next 15-20 years, with the popularity coming across, we are going to see it turn into a family activity even more than it already is."

I figured that if whole families can skateboard, I could at least give it the old college try. Despite my best efforts, I could not duplicate the cool fluid coordination of the fifth-graders around me. I looked more like one of those giant blue inflatable windsock guys that recklessly careen to and fro outside of used

car dealerships. What I was advertising was my incompetence.

With a variety of ramps, rails and other elements, the park at Wheeler is source of endless entertainment.

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"There are a lot of small little parks where the city thought they were helping by throwing up a few metal ramps," Dixon said. "They should have just put it all into one space like this."

So, kids, now that they have "put it all into one space," stay off the courthouse railings and bus stop benches. The park at Wheeler offers high-quality elements, and you won't be confronted by the Duluth Police Department for trying them out.

And adults, take an hour or two to entertain yourself by watching these young athletes perform incredible stunts, and, in doing so, educate yourself about one of the most popular pastimes among today's youth.

Or maybe even make it your own pastime. Or your method of commuting to the office. That cute girl over in Accounting will dig it, dude.

Go and do

Find the outdoor skate park at Wheeler Field, located at 35th Avenue West and Grand Avenue in West Duluth.

Writer Abel Gustafson is a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth and a Hermantown High School graduate.

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