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Skateboarders try a new obstacle - conformity - in building a new park

Skateboarders try a new obstacle - conformity - in building a new park

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ST. LOUIS • For three years, skateboarders have gathered under a dilapidated Kingshighway bridge near the Hill neighborhood.

They built, without city permission, a skateboarder’s paradise out of sight to those passing overhead.

“We wanted to show that we’re here, that every county surrounding us has a skateboard park and we don’t,” said Bryan Bedwell, who was among those who built the park.

City leaders eventually caught wind and surprised the counterculture group by becoming boosters of the park, which is filled with ramps and bowls and other gravity defying obstacles.

But approval came with the warning that the old bridge was set to come down soon and the skaters would have to find a new home.

The skateboard group is not waiting until the wrecking crew comes calling, most likely late next year. It plans to build the city’s first combined skate park and community garden on a vacant lot along busy Morganford Road in the Chippewa Park neighborhood.

The garden aspect was added to make the project more palatable for some in the neighborhood who were leary of creating a spot that would attract a group of youths and possibly lead to noise and traffic problems.

“At first I was kind of skeptical,” said Vickie Jordan, head of the neighborhood association. “My first concern was safety. But the more I talked to them, the more comfortable I became with it.”

The park would have set hours and would be locked when not in use. Plans also call for the park to be equipped with a phone to make outgoing calls in case of an emergency. And the majority of the 14,000-square-feet lot would be a community garden, allowing residents to enjoy flowers, vegetables and seating areas on a site that is now just weeds and trash.

And the community education center at nearby Long Middle School will help plant and maintain the garden, encouraging neighborhood involvement.

Patrice Crotty, community collaborative specialist for Long, said the center has created seven community gardens including one in front of the school. She said the neighborhood had selected several sites for future community gardens and the large lot on Morganford was on the list.

“Then I heard about the skate park and thought that would be really cool,” Crotty said. It will provide a recreational outlet for kids in the neighborhood, both at Long and nearby Oak Hill elementary, she said.

Bedwell, who heads the nonprofit skateboard group behind the project on Morganford Road, said the park could help dispel some of the negative stereotypes that can come with skateboarders.

“We’re not just all punks,” said Bedwell.

The Hill neighborhood eventually embraced the skateboard park under the Kingshighway bridge, although there has been a rash of grafitti on buildings recently in the neighborhood that has angered some businesses.

Bedwell said it is not the skateboarders doing the tagging and he is working with police and other city officials to get it under wraps. Streets Director Todd Waelterman said the skaters have been cooperative and work to keep the area clean. Before their arrival under the bridge, the area was a dumping ground for unwanted couches, mattresses and other junk. Waelterman provided the skateboarders a trash bin that city workers empty and he has put his support behind their next efforts on Morganford.

Alderman Carol Howard is backing the skate park and community garden effort as well.

“There is a good population of kids where there is not a lot going on for them that does not cost a lot,” Howard said. The park, she said, will be a good way to channel energy.

“Kids are daredevils,” Howard said. “It’s part of growing up.”

The lot sits on a commercial stretch of Morganford, at Osceola Street, and backs up to small, tidy homes. Once a German neighborhood, it is now filled with Bosnian families.

About a decade ago, a radiator shop sat on the lot. Underground tanks were removed in 2009, Jordan said. Neighbors had hoped for another business on the lot, but nothing materialized.

The skate park “was the first viable plan that came to us,” Jordan said.

Bedwell’s organization, officially called Kingshighway Vigilante Transition, is currently raising funds for the new park (in skating lingo a transition is the curve of a ramp ). The city owns the land and is leasing it to the group for $1 a year for five years, with an option to renew. The lease agreement allows the group to start the project with little overhead and the city to hold off on selling the land to the nonprofit until it feels comfortable the project is a success. The lease requires the skateboarding group to carry insurance.

Bedwell said the skateboarders want to raise $50,000 by spring to begin construction; they currently have about $18,000. The skate park will be built along the front of the lot, taking up about 4,000 of the 14,000 square feet.

Crotty said planting on the community garden portion is expected to begin this fall. Bedwell said that aspect will be left up to others to take charge because “skaters are not gardeners necessarily.”

His group will focus on the obstacles, which will be dyed and include mosaics and murals to give them a more artistic and rustic appeal unlike traditional skate parks, Bedwell said.

And this time around, the park will be built without defying City Hall.

“We talked to a lot of aldermen, shopped the idea around. Alderman Howard was amazing, Straight up she saw what we were doing.”

Waelterman said the skaters have about another year under the Kingshighway bridge.

First, the city will reconfigure Shaw Boulevard so that those traveling south can turn left — something the Missouri Botanical Garden has wanted for years.

Then the old bridge will come down, replaced by a new span. Much of the open space under the viaduct will be filled in.

“There are still people coming there to hang out,” Bedwell said. “It is really a viable resource for the city to have.”

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