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Future of skate park in jeopardy

Vandalism, disrespect for site are headaches for skateboard association
Helping Hands (Left to right) Lenny Rubenovitch, Brian Hockenstain and Chris Powers help paint the underground skatepark this week while skaters use the facility. The future of the skatepark is in jeopardy due to vandalism.

A few disrespectful riders could spell the end of the underground skatepark in Creekside, as Whistler-Blackcomb is concerned about continued vandalism of the underground parking area that was donated to the skate community.

Lenny Rubenovitch says it’s only a handful of skaters that are causing problems, but the newly created Whistler Skateboard Association is running out of opportunities to prove that the skate community can maintain and police the skatepark and parkade.

“We have been sent photos of garbage, of vandalism, of graffiti, of urination, and all kinds of things, and now the mountains will be making a decision that could result in their closing the skatepark,” said Rubenovitch, who will meet with Whistler-Blackcomb management this Friday.

“Right now we’re doing a lot of work to fix up the place, painting and things. We really have to prove ourselves in the next few days to show that we can maintain the park.”

Up to 10 volunteers are helping to paint and clean up the park area and parkade, each donating 10 to 15 hours over the last week to the project.

Whistler-Blackcomb donated the area of the Franz’s Trail parkade in Creekside in late 2005 after they learned that skaters were already using the facility. The arrangement went two ways — Whistler-Blackcomb would provide a place for skateboarders to build features and ride, out of the elements, and in exchange the skateboarders would police the parkade and prevent vandalism.

The entire park underwent a major enovation last winter where all the disintegrating wood topsheets on the park features were replaced with professional quality Skatelite that will last at least five years. The association spent $4,500 on the Skatelite, on top of close to $3,000 for other supplies, using cash from fundraising and a grant from the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation. They have up to $4,000 more to spend on street features in the area, but may not have the opportunity with the future of the park up in the air.

Volunteers have also contributed more than 300 hours to construction, and hundreds more hours cleaning the area over the last year.

Rubenovitch estimates that as many as 150 people use the park each day. This past summer was wetter than usual, and the park saw a lot more use than usual.

Members of the association do help to clean and maintain the park, but Rubenovitch says there aren’t enough people volunteering with the association to do a proper job. In the end he says the riders will either have to start showing respect for the facility, or everyone will lose out.

“We’ve got a lot of new obstacles, the bowl is brand new, and the park is the best it’s ever been,” he said. “But within a few hours of people disrespecting the area, it’s disgusting. It’s just a lot of people ruining it for themselves.

“We’re also at a time of year when a lot of people are moving to town, who don’t know what’s going on with the park or the efforts that have gone to bringing it to where it is today.

“We need to get the community more involved, the skate community, and to be able to delegate tasks to people to keep the park maintained. Right now it’s discouraging how few people come to our meetings.”

The Whistler Skateboard Association was created to help raise money and build features for the park area, as well as to represent skaters in Whistler when dealing with other stakeholders.

If the park gets a reprieve, Rubenovitch says this will likely be the skaters’ last chance to prove themselves. Otherwise, he says, there is a possibility the park could either be closed permanently or fenced in with set hours and supervision.

The association has created some new signage for skaters, much of which is being ignored. If the park is spared, Rubenovitch says they will add more signage that explains to riders the rules of conduct and the fact that poor behaviour could result in the park’s closure.

Brian Hockenstein, another member of the association, says they understand Whistler-Blackcomb’s concerns.

“I want to be clear, Whistler-Blackcomb is the good guy in all of this,” he said. “They gave us the space and some funding, and have helped us out a lot. It’s the skaters that are ruining this for themselves, and it’s really just a small percentage of the skaters that are making us look bad.”

The association recently put up a sign telling skaters not to urinate in the stairwell, which some skaters are making a point of urinating under. There is also a sign telling skaters not to scuff their wheels on the stairwell walls so they grip better on the Skatelite surface, which have also been ignored.

There is a public washroom beside the liquor store on Franz’s Trail, says Hockenstein, and no shortage of concrete outside the parkade.

“You know it’s kids who think it’s funny to piss under the no pissing sign, but if they don’t cut it out then this is over. We don’t mind sticking up for the park, and donating our time to clean it up from time to time, but we’re not going to do this forever,” said Hockenstein. “The skateboard community is going to have to start standing up for themselves.”

Hockenstein said that most riders have no idea how unique it is to have a free, underground place to skate.

“There’s no place in the world that has this, an underground skatepark that doesn’t cost you a dime,” he said. “There’s nothing else to do in Whistler when it’s raining. You can sit on your couch, and you can drink, and that’s about it. This is something that’s fun, it’s free, and it can be really positive.”