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Bemidji skate park: Height features pose insurance challenge

Nick Hudson, 19, of Minneapolis, formerly of Bemidji, refines his skateboarding abilities while using the mobile skate park provided by the American Ramp Company on July 4 outside of the Beltrami County History Center in Bemidji. Hudson is a former president of Bemidji Skate & Bike Association. Pioneer Photo/Bethany Wesley

Nate Dorr would like Bemidji to dig a little deeper.

But, to do that, he first needs to convince the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust to revise its standards.

The LMCIT now insures skate parks in a two-tier system based on the height of the features in the park. Tier 1 facilities do not require an additional premium charge, but do require that features be 4 feet high or lower. Tier 2 features may be higher, but will require additional premiums.

"Four feet can get really boring really fast," said Dorr, a volunteer with the Bemidji Skate & Bike Association.

Short of eliminating the tier system altogether, which LMCIT has indicated it would not do, Dorr said he wants the LMCIT to consider raising that Tier 1 height limit to at least 6 feet.

The rationale, Dorr explained, is that falls from the highest features in the Bemidji skate park will involve sliding more so than freefalls to a hard surface.

Dorr gathered comments from the Tony Hawk Foundation, Skaters for Public Skate Parks and SITE Design Group, which will design the Bemidji skate park as he drafted a recommendation for the LMCIT.

"From personal experience, a medium-sized, 6- to 7-foot bowl, would provide a challenge to the vast majority of users," Dorr wrote.

The Bemidji skate park is planned to be a 22,000 square foot custom concrete park with permanent, concrete fixtures. Once complete, the free park will offer a mix of street plaza - real urban architecture such as railings and benches - and traditional skate park features such as a bowl.

"It would make a big difference," said Marcia Larson, the Bemidji parks and recreation director, of the possibility of increasing the height of the planned bowl.

The in-ground bowl, which when constructed will be the first custom concrete bowl in the state of Minnesota to be available for free public use, will resemble an empty swimming pool with rounded walls and edges.

If someone were to fall while in the bowl, he would actually slide down the wall of the bowl rather than freefall to the concrete, Dorr said.

"If we're going to build it, we need to build it for the next generation," he said.

The Tier 1 insurance coverage is the same as that provided for playground equipment.

Dorr said he was just recently at Diamond Point Park when he saw a child atop one of the metal slides slip and freefall about 7 feet.

"He hit the ground and was shaken, but he didn't cry," Dorr said, suggesting that the playground fall was perhaps worse than those that would occur inside the skate park.

"If the liability of Tier 1 skate parks equal the liability of a playground, then height restrictions in the skate park are irrelevant," Dorr wrote in the recommendation.

Dorr said new skaters also tend to remain in lower parts of bowls until their skills develop.

"The culture of skateboard parks is such that more experienced skaters typically offer younger skaters advice or assistance when the younger skaters approach a section or bowl that is new to them," he wrote in the recommendation. "Experienced skaters are quick to convey any potential dangers and caution younger skaters to adapt to the terrain gradually."

Minnesota now has two custom concrete skate parks, one of which is public. That one is in Duluth, which is a Tier 1 park without a bowl. The other is a private park in Edina, which is a Tier 2 park with an "experts only" bowl 13 feet deep.

"Our project in Bemidji is meant to challenge intermediate to advanced level riders for regional and national competitions, yet cater to novice or younger users in a separate area," Dorr wrote.

There also is an online effort, which has more than 500 MySpace supporters, to change or eliminate the LMCIT tier system altogether,

"Although we are not directly a part of that, we are concerned that if we build a ... skate park, then have the tier system change a few years later, our park will be outdated," Dorr wrote.

Stephanie Weiss, the public relations consulting manager for the LMCIT, on Wednesday said the insurance trust did receive the inquiry from Dorr in early July.

A group from the LMCIT plans to meet today, she said, to discuss the inquiry and determine its next steps.

The LMCIT will continue to be in contact with Bemidji City Manager John Chattin, Weiss said.

Another grant

Dorr also confirmed Wednesday that the Bemidji skate park effort received a $25,000 grant through the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

While it was lower than hoped - Dorr had requested $150,000 to match the city of Bemidji's contribution - the grant brings the total of all fundraising efforts to just about $315,000.

That is short of the goal of $450,000 toward the skate park, but Dorr said it is still a good amount, especially considering the recession.

"It probably won't be as big as we initially hoped," he said, adding that the skate park could be expanded in the future.

He said the Shakopee grant was probably the last large grant opportunity for the skate park.

"We've tapped our grant options," said Dorr, a professional grant writer who also teaches grant writing at Bemidji State University.

He said he hopes that local businesses and individuals continue to support the effort.

The Web site for the skate park is