Skaters and other riders are stoked about improvements at the beleaguered Ashland Skate Park, brought about because of a new collaboration between users and the Parks and Recreation Department.
Parks workers recently replaced a water fountain and pedestrian bench and repaired and reopened the bathrooms after a spate of vandalism so chronic the city considered closing the park for good.
But a newfound understanding between users and city officials has everybody motivated to keep the area looking fresh, both sides say.
"We were removing things that were vandalized and not coming up with solutions to get things fixed," said Bruce Dickens, parks supervisor.
"Some of the users approached the commission and said what happened to the drinking fountain and the bench ... I think it's been a very positive thing that they did come to us ... we're willing to do our part when they are willing to do their part."
Before August, the park's water fountain had been out of order for nearly two years, forcing park users to cross Water Street and use a lawn spigot at Pickled Planet.
Business owner Courtlandt Jennings, a lifelong skateboarder, said he wasn't about to let riders go thirsty when the park's fountain was shut off.
"I can't imagine why anybody would ever smash a water fountain ... but to deny people water isn't right," said Jennings, 40, of Ashland.
Most of the skating community contends users aren't the vandals, but parks commissioners were told by at least one community member last month that users have been seen smashing the park's signage and structures.
Much of the park's graffiti, which is continually removed by the city because there is an ordinance requiring it, Jennings said, is likely from park users, because it is considered a part of skateboarding culture.
Skate parks in some cities allow graffiti, he said.
After hearing formal pleas from park users in May, the Parks Commission decided to get proactive about the park it had discussed closing from excessive vandalism earlier this year.
During a May 20 Parks Commission meeting, parks Director Don Robertson described vandalism at the skate park as the worst the staff had ever seen.
"The approach we're taking now is, let's all work together," Dickens said. "We're going to clean it up as much as we can. We're going into this together with a good-faith understanding. ... We heard them and they heard us."
Skateboarder Shaun Liddy noticed the improvements right away.
"It's good to have the water fountain. ... It's nice to get your helmet wet between runs," said the 11-year-old, who attends John Muir School in Ashland but lives in Talent.
"It really sucked when you were dehydrated and you had to walk across the street to get a drink."
On Friday, Shaun was practicing his backside melon 180, dropping nine feet into a bowl to gain enough speed for airing out the opposite side, one hand in the air, the other clenching his board.
"If you go down there it's a really fun place," Dickens said. "To me, it's one of the most entertaining parks we have — it's a big playground."
Skateboarders Kai Lyon, 17, and Reid Higley, 16, said most of the vandalism comes from transients.
"It's all the tranny (transient) kids ... we don't like these kids. They don't even skate, they just lurk down here," said Kai, a student at Ashland High School. "Most of the vandalism happens at night ... we show up and there is litter everywhere and the park is wrecked."
Reid, who also attends AHS, said the improvements, which include a new rule sign and drain to relieve standing water on the park surface, are long overdue, but a good thing to see.
Jennings said the drain is off by about 10 feet, however, and water still accumulates near it.
Volunteers and parks workers also cleaned up litter along Ashland Creek near the skate park, Dickens said.
"It's definitely a lot nicer now, but I think it was unfair before," Kai said. "It seems a little harsh to take out the bench."
"No drinking fountain was brutal!" Reid said.
Jennings, who helped initiate communication between skate park users and the Parks Commission, said he hopes the Parks Department continues maintaining the skate park to its current condition, at least.
"It's nice to see the whole community participating together and working together on this ... but soon this park is going to need repairs," he said. "The cement surface itself needs repairs."
Jennings, who has helped skaters unclog and clean out the skate park's bowl the last three Decembers, said park users have no problem pulling their weight when it comes to upkeep, self-policing and maintenance, but professional park builders should be hired to assess and repair the park.
"It's one of our parks and we take pride in all of our parks. It's important that we have quality facilities," Dickens said. "We feel very positive about working together on this."
To assist with park upgrades or to become a park host or "Friend of the Skate Park," contact Parks Department Volunteer Coordinator Lori Ainsworth at 541-552-2264 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.