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Protecting our boarders

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By Mike Forster

It?s not easy to be a skateboarder in Bedford. With no dedicated place for them to ply their trade, the area?s boarders are relegated to the sidewalks and parking lots that dot the town and county.

When they do skate at those spots, they often risk incurring the wrath of the owning merchants or, worse, being chased off by officers from the Bedford Police Department.

Well, the boarders lives look to become significantly better. Plans are in full swing to build a skate park at the county?s Falling Creek Park.

Perry Siehien, an eighth grader at Bedford Middle School was ecstatic at the news. ?This is great,? he said. ?It?s something we?ve wanted for a long time.?

Perry, recently seen skating in the lot of the Farmer?s Market, stated, ?Now, we?d have a place to skate and then the banks and businesses that fear the liability won?t have to worry.?

Michael Stokes, Director of Bedford County Parks and Recreation, is spearheading the effort for the county. ?This is just another group of youth of our county that need recreation facilities,? said Stokes. ?The county will provide the site and the construction costs will be provided by private backers.?

That?s good news for Bedford taxpayers. An anonymous donor has already kicked in $100,000, with the promise of covering the rest of the cost, which is expected to be an additional $200,000.

Bedford City Police Chief Jim Day seemed pleased with the proposal. ?I like the idea,? said the chief. ?They do need a place to skateboard and most of the areas in the cities are off limits.?

Days? officers frequently respond to complaints from local business people, concerned with liability should a skater injury himself on their property.

The siting in Falling Creek Park has a tremendous upside. With 250 acres, the park has plenty of land, of which the skatepark will use approximately three acres (including parking). It also provides a central location within the county. As Falling Creek has other recreation options, entire families can be served. ?A parent can drop off a son or daughter (at the skatepark) and go to another part of the park to use the biking or hiking trails,? noted Stokes.

One concern expressed with the Falling Creek location came from Chief Day, who felt that walking to the park was not a good idea, given the lack of sidewalks along Falling Creek Road.

For those with concerns that the skatepark could become a haven for ne?er do wells, they should put their minds at ease. ?We don?t expect a whole lot of problems,? said Stokes. ?Kids police it themselves.?

That claim was validated by local skateboarding guru Brian Hilbish. ?The more advanced parks draw in families and older skaters,? said Hilbish. ?Because it?s so nice, like anything else that?s nice, those that use it want to protect it. When trouble makers show up, the skaters shoo them away.?

Having the Bedford County Sheriff?s department across the street provides another layer of assurance.

For those concerned with the safety of the sport, consider this: according to the NEISS (National Electronic Injury Surveillance System - a division of the Consumer Protection Safety Council), skateboarding is a relatively safe sport, with a lower injury per 100,000 rate than basketball, baseball and soccer.

The skatepark also gets boarders out of the potential path of automotive traffic which is encountered when skating on sidewalks and parking lots.

Hilbish, a mechanical engineer with 40 years of skateboarding experience, estimates that the number of skateboarders in the city and county is ?easily in the hundreds.?

According to Stokes, the project is in the RFP (Request for Proposal) stage, with several prominent engineering firms engaged. ?We?re leaning toward a design-build model,? he said. ?Some cities have had city engineers design (the park) but that?s not their expertise.?

Once the proposals have been received, they will be reviewed by Parks and Recreation personnel and some local experts. Firms will be given an opportunity to give a presentation on their proposals, including previous experience they have in the field.

A committee, which will soon be named, will choose the vendor.

From that point, Stokes expects things to move rapidly, predicting a construction period of 6-7 months, including site selection within Falling Creek, which is to be done by the chosen firm.

?Ideally, within this year, I?d like to see it completed,? said Stokes.

Skateboarders like Perry Siehien couldn?t agree more.