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Bemidji Skate Park: 'It's pretty cool'

Ted Gillett, representing the Neilson Foundation, and Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann cut the ribbon for the official opening of the Bemidji Skate Park Friday afternoon as hundreds showed up for the event. It is located in the renovated Bemidji City Park, 1230 23rd St. N.W., and features Minnesota's first public concrete skate park with a 6-foot bowl. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Alex Vanegas stood alongside the bowl at the Bemidji Skate Park Friday afternoon, holding his skateboard in his right hand and patiently waiting his turn.

"It's pretty cool. I like it," said the 16-year-old, who visited Bemidji from Detroit Lakes to see the Skate Park for the first time. "It's a concrete skate park. I heard it was cool. It is."

Vanegas, who has been skateboarding about six years, came to Bemidji with his mother and 18-year-old brother, who also skateboards. He was one of more than 100 people who gathered Friday afternoon in Bemidji City Park to celebrate the grand opening of the Bemidji Skate Park, Minnesota's first public skate park with a 6-foot bowl.

Dozens of skateboarders and bikers - ranging in age from about 3 to 60 - experienced the Skate Park firsthand, maneuvering along the plaza concourse, jumping from ledges and trying tricks along the bank.

The bank was Manly McDermott's favorite part of the Skate Park. McDermott, 18, of Bemidji, said he has been at the Skate Park every day since it was completed a couple of weeks ago.

"It's pretty great actually," he said.

McDermott said he was happy the park was able to be opened this fall.

Grand-opening events were to be held "rain, snow, sleet or shine," but the weather could not have been ideal. The temperature was just below 50 degrees with bright sunshine.

The opening of the Skate Park was a "very, very monumental event," according to Mayor Richard Lehmann, who cut the ribbon with a group of officials, volunteers, teenagers and kids.

Perhaps the most touching comments from the program came from Kathy DeKrey, a former member of the Bemidji Youth Advisory Commission and student representative on the Bemidji Parks and Trails Commission. DeKrey advocated for the project twice in recent years. An effort for a skate park about five years ago failed to produce any results. But DeKrey, and others, picked the project up again in 2007, banded with some adults and fought to keep the project alive.

"And this happened," she said, referencing the finished Skate Park. "It was the power of young people coming together and demanding for change."

She said it was an exciting day.

"You can do anything you want," she said. "Don't let anyone tell you you can't."

The Skate Park cost $316,000, which was raised by the Bemidji Skate and Bike Association through grants and donations. Funds included $150,000 from the city through the half-cent sales tax for parks improvements and a $100,000 grant from the George W. Neilson Foundation. The project also was named one of three nationwide projects to be named a $25,000 grant award winner by the Tony Hawk Foundation in 2008.

"It was a lot of work, but it was a long time coming," said Nate Dorr, an adult volunteer who worked with the Skate and Bike Association to secure the funding.

The formal ribbon-cutting ceremony did not last long - most of those in attendance were anxious to skate - but key individuals and organizations were thanked for their support.

"This is a great day," Lehmann said. "The city is very proud of this. It's another amenity to our community."

Lehmann and Paul Welle, representing the Nielson Foundation, also noted the support of Sgt. Seth Martell with the National Guard Armory. Martel had hosted a temporary skate park in the Armory so skateboarders had a place to go. Welle said Martell also told the Nielson Foundation board that the teens - who numbered as many as 90 during some skate park nights - were responsible and took pride in what they were doing.