A decade and a half after its inception, Cottage Grove skatepark looks a bit worse for wear at 15 years old.
The skatepark, originally completed in 2004, celebrates its 15th anniversary this week, which would typically be a cause for celebration. However, due to years of repeated vandalism and graffiti as well as an unclear delegation of maintenance and cleaning responsibilities, the future of the park is as murky as the water that gathers in the main bowl due to its perpetually clogged drain.
“The maintenance department oversees taking care of our city parks and the skatepark is one of the parks that we try to manage, mow and cleanup on a regular basis,” said Public Works and Development Director Faye Stewart.
“It’s not uncommon for me to drive by and notice that there’s garbage and paper cups and different things that are littered around the park … but we’re trying to get folks to acknowledge that this is their park, their skatepark and, you know, please help us keep it clean for all the users to use.”
Upon taking a trip to the park, visitors will instantly notice what Stewart is alluding to. There is indeed trash strewn around the inside and outside of the park. The park rules sign is tagged with enough graffiti that parts have become illegible. Pine needles from nearby trees gather on the concrete, creating small hazards for users.
While the park receives regular garbage pickup every Monday, it remains unclear if the inside of the park sees regularly-scheduled maintenance and sweeping from city officials. But it has, at least, received periodical care as Stewart mentions several times in the past few years where officials have been out to the park to plunge the flooded bowl after receiving calls from local residents.
“I have received several calls in the last couple years that the drain needs to be unplugged … once in a while the fencing gets damaged and we have to go in and fix it … the police department brought to our attention that the steps needed some attention and we worked on that a couple months ago. So besides routine garbage, we try to recognize when things need to be cleaned up, but it’s not swept on a daily basis,” Stewart continued.
According to Stewart the city provides the same services to the skatepark as the other parks in the area, however the daily users of the park feel like their favorite hangout - for skateboarders and BMX and scooter riders alike - has long been forgotten.
“It just kinda seems like nobody cares about it, but this is where we like to hang out. There’s not much to do in Cottage Grove so if this skatepark goes away or gets too messy to use then we have nowhere else to go,” said one of the users present at the park last week.
“Lots of people probably think it’s us that’s making a mess at the skatepark, throwing garbage, doing graffiti, but this is where we hang out. It’s not us. It’s like having a dirty bedroom,” he continued.
While there is undoubtedly a group of people who wantonly throw trash into the park, break bottles or tag the concrete with spraypaint, the users and city officials seem to disagree on who exactly those people might be. In any case, taking a sense of ownership in maintaining a shared-use public space sometimes requires tools and a leg up from those in a position to help.
The rules board at the park states that users may use a provided broom to sweep up debris, rocks and glass that may be presenting a hazard to their fun; a task that becomes much more difficult when the tool is nowhere to be found.
“The broom got stolen, then one of us brought our own, then that one got stolen too ... we used to use them to sweep up but we just don’t want more to get stolen,” said one of the BMX riders.
Some people believe the skatepark has become an eyesore, a local park not far from downtown that has fallen into disrepair. Some users believe the skatepark - in their minds, their only place to socialize and practice their hobby - has become a dilapidated hazard. It seems that a number of possible solutions could be amenable to both sides of the debate.
Despite a five-year delay before finally opening and an effort which raised tens of thousands of dollars, it remains possible that Cottage Grove skatepark was, to a certain extent, doomed to routinely relive its rocky start.
Skateboarding, BMX bikes and scooters took off in popularity in the late ‘90s and early 2000s and with them, so did the concrete skatepark construction boom. Today, there are over 100 concrete skateparks in the state of Oregon, from several in both Eugene and Portland, to Astoria, Hood River, Florence, Halsey and every other nook and cranny of the state.
Some of these skateparks were designed by professionals, often brought in from Portland. Others were primarily built and paid for by community fundraising efforts and local construction companies. Cottage Grove falls into the second category and the design of the skatepark remains one of the users’ biggest complaints.
According to a group of users, the bowls and ramps are of an older, less vertical and somewhat outdated design. The fences are too close to the lips of the bowls and ramps, causing a sizable safety hazard when exiting for a jump on a bike, scooter or skateboard.
Users last week said a friend recently cut their ear open on the fence when exiting the bowl and most users claimed to have torn at least one shirt on a jagged piece of chain link fence. The rails need to be moved away from the fence to be usable and the pyramid at the main entrance of the park is effectively unusable due to its proximity to the southern side of the perimeter fence.
Most of the young users say the skatepark’s ideal solution would be an entirely new park, but they, along with city officials and residents, are eager for something to change and there may be solutions that serve to please all groups.
“I mean, we want a new broom. Maybe the fence could get moved back, I don’t know. It’d be nice if we had a chance to tell someone our ideas for the park since we use it so much,” said one of the older kids.
In the very first article published about the Cottage Grove skatepark in The Sentinel on Aug. 11, 2004, the story ended with a quote from a local mother: “I hope everyone takes care of it.”
While users see a situation where the city can do more to help them, the city sees a situation where users could ideally take on more responsibility themselves in maintaining what is their preferred activity space. The future remains unclear, but all parties involved seem motivated to find ways for improvement.