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Skateboarders ramp up efforts for a new skate park

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news Cloquet, 55720
Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

Simon Thill

For the Pine Journal

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Two different groups of “tweenage” boys walked into a white-walled meeting room in the Cloquet Public Library on Jan. 22, shaking off the cold. Dressed head-to-toe in skate apparel, they sat down confidently after bumping knuckles with Matthew Q. Anderson, a skater of 20-plus years who organized the meeting. Two of the boys’ parents made their way in and shook Anderson’s hand before taking a seat several spots down from their restless children, who had just escaped the brick walls of another Wednesday at Cloquet Middle School. As the clock hit 4:05 p.m., Anderson announced the meeting’s first objective and the room fell into attentive silence.

Headed by life-long skateboarder Anderson, the Carlton County Skate Park Association (CCSA) was founded in 2010 with one goal in mind: building a skate park. A growing group of kids and parent volunteers are still pursuing that goal. It has been an uphill battle fighting for respect, support, a location and — above all — funds. A determined group that meets at least once a month to discuss fundraisers and volunteer opportunities is the driving force alongside the skaters themselves. Though skateboarding is less popular in the debilitating winter months of northern Minnesota, the CCSA pushes on.

Should they succeed, it won’t be Cloquet’s first attempt at a skate park.

In 1999, a skate park was built in the old tennis court of Wentworth Park in the Historic West End of Cloquet. The skate park wouldn’t stand for even 10 years — in 2008, it was declared an unfit environment for Cloquet’s youth. As vandalism, fights and drug deals flooded the Cloquet skate park, it became an unsupervised hangout for a crowd whose majority didn’t skate or even intended to learn how. It was a failure, and devastating for the youth whose passion was skateboarding.

When asked about the reasons behind the demise of Cloquet’s skate park at Wentworth, Chief of Police Wade Lamirande answered simply: location. Sandwiched between railroad tracks and a less-than-busy Avenue B, with a towering vine-laced fence, the skate park at Wentworth seemed nothing less than a temptress to Cloquet’s riffraff.

CCSA intends to learn from past experience.

 A new beginning

The age-old saying, “fall six times get up seven,” may not be more apropos of any sport than it is to skateboarding. Skaters themselves are some of the most resilient people on earth. Imagine for a moment racing toward a flight of stairs, 10 steps deep, standing unbound on a board attached to greased-bearing wheels and leaping from the top step to the ground below. As you lose control of the board, your feet, knees, and hands reach to absorb the inevitable slam of the rigid and unforgiving pavement below. Equivalent to missing an extra point or striking out, as an athlete you must dust yourself off and try again. This resiliency is the essence in which the battle for a skate park in Cloquet strides on.

Since 2010 Anderson and his crew — which grows every year by at least five members — have been busy. They have not only involved themselves within the city through volunteering, but they have managed to gain a significant amount of support throughout the community. They have had 16 fundraisers earning a total of $3,000; they have participated in four Cloquet parades with no fewer than 25 skaters, and they have volunteered in several of the city parks. The CCSA cleaned up and cut the overgrowth at Cloquet’s Athletic Park and partnered with the Age to Age Foundation in their flower garden at Pinehurst Park. Since 2012, the group has participated in the state’s “Adopt-a-Highway” program on Highway 61 as well as holding an account at the Riverside Recycling Center for tin can donations.

“We are a part of Cloquet’s community and want to be involved; we want to support our community in any way we can,” said Anderson, whose three-year term as a commissioner on Cloquet’s Parks and Recreation Board ended Jan. 1.

In June 2011, Anderson and the CCSA got approval and funding from the city to develop a plan and layout for a possible future skate park with Spohn Ranch Skate Parks of California. The plan they favored would cover 8,000 square feet and be constructed from the highest grade Portland concrete to withstand the harsh winters of northern Minnesota. It would also cost an estimated $250,000.

The funding is definitely the biggest hurdle for a Cloquet skate park.

The Parks Commission — which has no budgetary authority — told the CCSA that they would support the city providing a $100,000 match toward the building of a skate park, but that means CCSA members need to raise substantially more to build their dream park or modify plans accordingly. As well, any funds would have to be approved by the City Council — which is more of a possibility since voters here passed a half-percent sales tax to help pay for improvements to city parks, infrastructure and economic development. (Editor’s note: The city hasn’t spent any of the funds collected from the local sales tax; rather, Cloquet City Councilors are allowing the fund to grow and requested various city staff and commissions help identify spending priorities in each possible category.)

In an effort intended to help elected officials decide where and how to spend those sales tax dollars — as well as plan for the future — a community task-force recently completed a long-range Master Parks Plan for the enhancement of parks in the city.

However, the skate park is not a part of any specific park in that plan.

“It is identified in the Master Plan, but the tough part is finding a home for it,” said Assistant City Engineer Caleb Peterson, who also works with the Parks Commission and was the city staff liaison on the task force. “The Commission had sited [the skate park] at Athletic Park, then the task force preliminarily sited it at Veterans Park.

“But we can’t do anything until we figure out what that park’s going to be,” Peterson added, noting that plans for both Veterans and Voyageurs parks are on hold for an indefinite period until city staff, local veterans groups and the Parks Board can reach a consensus on a plan for both parks.

Anderson and his fellow skateboarders feel strongly that a skate park should be a part of Cloquet’s long-range parks plan, especially considering the stated goals of the master plan, to “maintain existing parks and facilities as a first priority, enhancing them to better accommodate community use” and No. 2, to “recognize the evolution of community and restructure parks accordingly.”

Peterson figures CCSA is on the right track.

“They’re a great group of kids working to make [a skate park] a reality,” said Peterson of the motivated skateboarders club.

Skate park pizza fundraiser

Pizza lovers can donate to the Carlton County Skate Park Association  (CCSA) by ordering a pizza from the Cloquet Pizza Hut between 4 p.m. and midnight Friday, Feb. 7. Make sure you mention the skate park and 20 percent of the cost of your meal will go to the Carlton County Skate Park Association.

To donate to the CCSA or to request volunteers from the club, visit www.cloquetskate park.comor email Qmanderson13@gmail.com.

Editor's note: Look in next wek's Pine Journal for Part Two of this story, which looks at other skate parks and what it could mean to local youth to have a park here in Cloquet.

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