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An Axle to Grind: After a decade of advocating, Bend skaters are still waiting for a new park 

Local skaters are still waiting for their own spot to shred.

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At thirty four, Katie Patterson is getting tired of waiting for the mainstream sports world to figure out what her and a generation of kids figured out long before ESPN launched the X Games: skateboarding is cooler than soccer.

Patterson grew up in another mountain town that's nearly synonymous with sports, the Front Range city of Colorado Springs, home of the U.S. Olympic Training Center. But when it came to skateboarding, her best option was the drainage ditch near her home where she skated with friends in her free time.

Fast forward 20 years and Patterson finds herself in another mountain town where the options for park riding are as scarce as a fresh line on a Saturday afternoon at Mt. Bachelor.

Like other Bend skateboarders, a demographic anomaly that includes tweens just taking up the sport to two-car garage parents who just can't give it up, Patterson has essentially given up on the idea of a publicly funded skatepark in Bend. It's particularly frustrating for skaters given that dozens of other Oregon cities, including towns like Madras, Redmond and Pendleton have been able to build modern parks.

"I can't attribute it to anything other than there has to be some internal prejudice. It's the most insane thing that I've witnessed in politics," said Patterson who owns Aspect Board Shop on Bend's westside, one of handful of local shops that sells skateboard and skate hardware.

It's not a new issue in Bend; it's been the better part of a decade since the district floated the idea of reconstructing Ponderosa skatepark, or Pondy, as it's known to local skateboarders. But a recent push by skaters to include a park in the plans for a new riverfront park that is slated for development south of downtown has prompted the district to take stock of its approach to skateboarding. And while district officials say they have no plans to include a skatepark at the new riverfront property, dubbed Miller's Landing, they say that the district is likely to discuss the idea of funding the reconstruction of Ponderosa skatepark sooner rather than later. Officials acknowledge also that the district is exploring the possibility of building a second park on Bend's westside, something that skaters have implored the board to consider as interest in the sport grows.

"There's clearly an expressed sentiment that we need more than one skatepark and we need one on the westside," said Bruce Ronning, the district's director of planning and development.

In fact the district's own surveys show that interest in the sport and the development of a skate park has increased over the past few years. A poll taken earlier this year shows the demand for a skatepark now ranks just behind off-leash dog park development and ahead of sports fields among Bend households.

However, said Ronning, there's a process that the district and the public, including skaters, need to go through before that can happen. There's also the question of prioritization at a time when the district, like other taxing entities, is faced with diminished revenues.

"We try to do our best to listen to the community and needs and circumstances change, but we also don't jump to conclusions that when a group of advocates comes to the park board to speak to their needs that we should change horses," Ronning said.

At this point, Ronning said it's likely that the park board will include the question of prioritizing funding for a planned upgrade of the Ponderosa park in its next round of budget deliberations, which are scheduled to begin in January. The district has already developed a plan to shutter the facility and replace it with a modern park on the opposite end of the property where there is better parking, increased access and improved visibility. However, the district has yet to identify a funding source for the project, which staff has estimated at roughly $280,000.

But skaters, including Peterson, are skeptical about throwing their lot in with the district, which they say has been long on lip service to plans for a new park and short on action.

Longtime skatepark advocates like Travis Yamada, who moved to Bend in the early 90s to ride Mt. Bachelor and has remained ever since, remember the last round of serious discussions about upgrading Ponderosa skatepark. That was more than half a decade ago and little has happened in the interim, despite the fact that the district is in the midst of a roughly $1 million construction project at the park.

Parks officials say that one of the reasons the upgrade hasn't happened already is because the district was waiting for skaters to take the initiative.

"When I ran for board whenever that was, there was a big active movement and we all supported the idea of doing the park and we needed the community to rally and raise some money and show some interest. That movement lost steam and the project lost steam," said former parks board member Bob Woodward.

In fact, despite the recent outpouring of support, Woodward said he couldn't recall a single meeting during his four-year tenure for which a contingent of skatepark supporters turned out to rally for a public park. That's in contrast to other interest groups who have taken their concerns to the board, the staff, and in some cases the ballot box. In some ways, the proliferation of off-leash dog parks and youth sports fields is attributable to the concerted lobbying efforts of supporters who pressed the district to devote resources to those projects.

"The park district, like a lot of agencies, tends to respond to where they get the push, not that a push means you're going to get it. But you have to be cohesive and one thing with the skate community is they tend to coalesce for a little bit and then they fall apart," Woodward said.

Skatepark supporters acknowledge that they share some of the blame for the lack of progress over the past decade. Perhaps that shouldn't come as any surprise, given the nature of the sport, which typically tends to attract people with an independent and anti-establishment streak. Some of the skateboarders I grew up with were among the best athletes I knew. Yet most of them had no interest in organized sports and little use for things like schedules, coaches and rules in general. Yet that's exactly the kind of minutiae that skaters are challenged with navigating when they step into the bureaucracy of city planning and parks development.

"I know more than anybody how challenging it is to build a park and go through all the proper channels to make something like that happen. But I think there's been enough time that I think we can harness stuff to work with parks and rec and do something, but the ball is in their court to do something more than just [having] the idea," Yamada said.

The fact that skateboarders have put most of their efforts into a privately funded project that's outside the purview of the park district is an indicator of just how little faith skateboarders have in the official channels. So far the supporters have raised more than $30,000 for the now half-decade old project known as the Division Street Skate Park that Yamada and a few other longtime local skaters have spearheaded. While nothing is set in stone, the group hopes to start work on the planned park in the spring, provided they can get the necessary permits from the city and secure a lease of the proposed site from the state Department of Transportation, which owns the property at the parkway underpass.

With the end so seemingly close in sight for Division Street, the recent push for a publicly funded skatepark came rather unexpectedly. Skatepark supporters say it speaks to the pent up demand for a new park, any park, in Bend that the skate community rallied so readily around the idea of a park at Miller's Landing. There's also the fact that some in the skateboard community are just as pessimistic about the prospects for Division Street as they are about the parks district.

Nick Brown, the owner of the recently opened Skate Habit skate shop next to the Horned Hand, grew up skating Ponderosa park and has watched the Division Street effort inch slowly along for the past five years. He's skeptical that it will ever amount to anything tangible at this point.

"I kind of get tired of trying to support those guys," said Brown flatly of Yamada and the other Division Street organizers.

Yamada and the other organizers understand the criticism and take it in stride. They point out that a grassroots effort like the Division Street project relies on donated time and resources, something that can be hard to marshal on a moments notice for people like Yamada who runs his own business.

"What gets lost in the translation is that on both sides this isn't a cut-and-dried overnight deal. It's now been in the works for five years, but we're solely responsible for the time and we all have jobs and families and the city is the same way," said Topher Laws, one the Division Street organizers who is also working behind the scenes with the park district on the issue of a publicly funded westside skatepark.

For Laws, who grew up skating in Bend and Portland in the late 80s and 90s, it's been a long road. But he hasn't given up on the idea that his hometown will add "skatepark" to the long list of recreational amenities that make Bend a draw for athletes of all stripes.

And that's something that he and Brown can agree upon.

"We will end up with a skate park, one way or another, in the next few years," said Brown with the confidence of a man who just opened a skateboard shop banking on that fact.

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