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Support grows for skate park

Supporters of a Bemidji skate park received a lot of vocal support on Tuesday, even if it wasn't financial - yet.

The Bemidji Parks and Trails Commission heard an update from local skate park supporters Nate Dorr and Kathy DeKrey.

Dorr is working with DeKrey, a Bemidji Youth Advisory Commission member, as a volunteer consultant on a goal of having a skate park constructed in Bemidji that would offer skateboarders a place to practice their skills.

The Parks and Trails Commission agreed that a skate park would certainly be beneficial for the city, but stopped short of financially committing to the project.

Instead, commissioners decided to set a goal date of June 1 to give supporters a figure for potential financial support of the skate park.

""We all think this is a great idea," said commissioner Mary Auger.

The Parks and Trails Commission not only needs to address the skate park, but also to consider its priorities for all of the parks improvements that will be funded through the half-cent sales tax, commissioners said. During that process, the skate park would be addressed.

Commissioners said they wanted the new parks and recreation director to have an opportunity to voice his or her opinions on the plans. The city is accepting applications for the position through Dec. 18, after which interviews would be held. Jerry Downs didn't think the new hire would actually start work until March or April, assuming that the city finds an ideal candidate in the first batch of applicants.

"I think we need this key person to lead the charge," said Andy Mack, the city's public works director.

Dorr and DeKrey presented plans for a $600,000 skate park, from which they were asking for $250,000 from the city's half-cent sales tax. Dorr explained that he believes the skate park would be eligible for a $250,000 grant through the Nielson Foundation, which would require a local funding match, and $100,000 would be generated through grants and fundraising efforts.

The demographics of Beltrami County would likely work in the city's favor for grants, Dorr said. The Tony Hawk Foundation gives up to $25,000 to skate parks projects in low-income areas, he explained.

If the budget is $600,000, Dorr thinks a skate park could be designed that covers about 15,000 square feet, depending on the cost per square foot.

He said there should not be many costs for operations and maintenance, suggesting just that a garbage can should be bolted down somewhere nearby. Skaters would be willing to sweep the areas if a broom would be available, he explained.

The brotherhood of skateboarders, BMX bikers and inline skaters is a tight group, he said, adding that they will help one another out if needed.

"If you fall down, someone will pick you up," he said.

Where the park might be constructed is not yet known. The Parks and Trails Commission originally thought a skate park might be included in Bemidji City Park, which is now scheduled to be the next park that receives a facelift.

Dorr, however, said skaters did not think Bemidji City Park was large enough.

Instead, he supported Nymore Park, due to the available space and new warming house. He also believes the skate park will increase the usage of the park and offer an opportunity to "beautify" the park.

"Nymore Park seemed to be the best," said Dorr, who toured possible sites this winter with Mack.

Also considered was the railroad corridor near the Holiday gas station, which Dorr liked because of high visibility and the nearby connections to trails. Also, it would be easy for out-of-town users to locate.

The third possible location was under the bridge near Bemidji Woolen Mills. But, the location didn't offer much of an opportunity to beautify the city, which supporters want to do, Dorr explained. Also, it is not a very visible location.

Downs suggested that the Nymore hockey rink could possibly be vacant in coming years. If the events center is constructed and can host Bemidji State University hockey games, the John Glas Fieldhouse would be more available for high school hockey games, thus freeing up the aging Nymore rink.

"There's going to be a lot of changes going on the city in the next few years," Downs said.

The group considered the possibilities for having an outdoor skate park versus an indoor facility, but Downs questioned whether skaters would like be stuck inside during the spring and summer.

Dorr, however, did emphasize that skaters would rather utilize concrete facilities, as it better duplicates the surface riders prefer, and lasts longer.

"I think it would be a great addition for Bemidji," said Barb Meuers.

Commissioners agreed that a skate park would be beneficial for Bemidji, but said they needed more time to consider the park plan and its priorities.

Dorr said he understood that projects take time.

"Another two years, it can wait, as long as it's built right," he said. "It's a long-term investment."