Football players have their advocates and baseball players their supporters. Now, Kodiak’s skaters, bikers and scooter fans are getting some help, too.
As the Kodiak City Council prepares to make a decision on $1.9 million remaining after the latest phase of the Baranof Park Improvements Project, Kodiak resident Jeremiah Gardner is leading a push to ensure at least some of that money is used to improve Baranof Park’s 13-year-old skate park.
“It’s by far the most widely used space in the park,” Gardner said. “I think they really deserve a really good spot.”
Though his efforts are just beginning, there are signs of strong support. A petition begun in Gardner’s shop has about 100 signatures even without stops at traditional Kodiak petition stops like Safeway and Walmart.
“I still ride BMX, and my friends who are my age are having kids, and those kids ride, too,” Gardner said. “It’s a cool spot for father and son.”
Gardner, who bought bike shop 58 North in May, said he remembers when he was in high school and the skate park was built.
He freely admits he was a “troublemaker” in high school, and recalled shoplifting from the store he now owns. When the skate park opened, it gave him a place to meet friends and burn off energy. “It kept me out of a lot of trouble, and it got me where I am now,” he said.
After enjoying the park during high school, Gardner left Kodiak for the East Coast, where he performed music successfully. While pursuing a musical education, he took a job at a bike shop. That job turned into a career, as he became a licensed mechanic for a number of high-profile brands.
When he returned to Kodiak this year, he found that the park where he spent his high school days isn’t what it used to be.
Rails used for grinding skateboards and scooters now have a rusty tint. Ramps installed new in 1999 have been winnowed through attrition. Pounded by years of hard-riding kids and persistent rain, damaged equipment has been pulled out and never replaced.
In 1999, the converted roller hockey rink was filled with wooden ramps and blocks. Now, its asphalt surface is mostly empty, with only a few ramps. Bleachers for the nearby football field take up almost a quarter of the park’s space, crowding riders on busy days.
“There’s more kids at the skate park in any given day than there are on the rest of the fields combined in a given week,” he said.
The parks and recreation department did not have statistics immediately available to back up that claim, but on a rainy Thursday afternoon with high school football practice taking up Baranof’s main field, the skate park was the only other part of the park showing life.
Dylan Morzo, Bergil Obas and Gerald Ekin traded a scooter back and forth, performing tricks and jumps while a helmeted bike rider took running starts at the sole remaining tall ramp.
Morzo explained that he’s at the park “every sunny day when it’s sunny, except for church days,” and he wouldn’t mind seeing things improve at the park.
For a few minutes, the three traded ideas for what they’d like to see — rails, ramps, boxes and spines. “Pretty much anything,” Obas said.
On Sept. 10, the city’s parks and recreation advisory board voted to make skate park improvements their No. 2 choice for the remaining funds. The No. 1 option is an artificial turf baseball outfield.
That prospect alarms Gardner, who raised questions about a rough estimate of $1.7 million given for construction at the parks and recreation board meeting. “It’s a Kodiak project,” he said, and predicted cost overruns would eat the total remaining money.
Rick Langfitt, Kodiak High School’s baseball coach and the face usually associated with Kodiak baseball, said he thinks that’s a pessimistic approach. He forecast an artificial baseball outfield would cost no more than $1.5 million. “There could be up to $400,000 available, which I think could go to skate park improvements,” he said.
The baseball outfield could then be used as a backup sport field, allowing soccer players or Kodiak Football League players to practice and play even when the main Baranof Park field is occupied.
He also pointed out that the original plans for the Baranof Park Improvements Project called for a new Baranof Park field, track and baseball infield and outfield.
While the infield has been built, the outfield remains grass. “They should go ahead and finish the project as it was developed, as it was designed,” Langfitt said.
He pointed out that no engineering plans have been done for a skate park, and there is no cost estimate, something Gardner admits.
On Facebook and in his office, Gardner has mockups of other skate parks across the country, but no firm cost estimates and no firm plans for how those mockups would fit into the space available in Baranof Park.
In January 1999, according to city records, the city of Kodiak allocated $7,500 for equipment at the park. Another $7,500 was to be contributed by the Kodiak Island Borough and the SK8 Board, a group of skate park supporters.
Gardner suggested the most ambitious designs for Baranof Park could run into the neighborhood of $500,000. Even if that isn’t possible, Gardner wants Kodiak to remember that there’s more to Baranof Park than just baseball and football. “Some of that wealth needs to be spread around,” he said.