Years of work for skate park about to pay off

William Gibbons spent a night camped out at a construction site on LaCreole Road. He's spent the better part of four years trying to bring a skateboard park to Dallas and now that it's nearing complet

DALLAS -- William Gibbons spent a night camped out at a construction site on LaCreole Road. He's spent the better part of four years trying to bring a skateboard park to Dallas and now that it's nearing completion, he's not going to let anyone ruin it.

The Dallas skate park, formally known as the Dallas Youth Activity Park, has come about through a combined effort from Youth for Dallas Skate Park, the Dallas Kiwanis Club, Dallas Action Together and the City of Dallas.

Carrying a $130,000 price tag, about half from fund-raisers and donations, the park will formally open with a ceremony July 21.

The James W. Fowler Company contracted with the City to build the park structure. Jim Fowler estimates his company has donated $10,000 to $20,000 in profit and overhead to the project.

"Wholesome activities for kids are extremely important," Fowler said. "We take pride in our relationship with the community and do what we can to help extend that."

Nick Nichols of the Dallas Kiwanis Club had the idea for a skate park five or six years ago. As he put it, "there was nothing for kids 11 to 16 to do, and skateboarding was popular around the country."

He brought the idea to the club, and working together, members helped raise money for the park. As it nears completion, Nichols likes what he sees.

"It's one of the most cleverly designed parks in the area. I can't help being proud about the fact it's being done and that Kiwanis had a part in doing it.

"My only regret," Nichols said, "is that some kids who raised money graduated and won't be able to use it. But it will be there for the younger kids and it will be there for a long time."

In the four years Gibbons, one of the original members of the youth group, has spent working to bring a skate park to Dallas, he has mostly stopped skating. Gibbons, co-chair of Youth for Dallas Skate Park with Mandie Taylor, is now 18.

"Back then, skating was my only form of transportation," Gibbons said. "Now I have a car and a job and I lost interest.

"But I like to finish what I start. People still skate. Just because I quit, doesn't mean everyone else did."

Ryan Freeman, a junior next year at Dallas High School, still skates regularly. He says he'll use the new park despite some concerns over its design. "Some of the transitions are messed up," Freeman said. "The pyramid goes right into the five-step.

"I'll see what's good to skate on," he said. "All parks have their good parts and their bad parts."

Parts of the skate park's plan changed to accommodate the nearby aquatic center's drainage, Gibbons said. "There were going to be two bowls, but there was no way to drain them," he said. "So we have an open-ended bowl, like a rounded wall."

Zak Knudsvig, also a DHS junior, skates near places like Oakdale Heights Elementary and Safeway. Though he didn't help plan the project, he has some ideas on what a skate park should have. "Just looking at it, there are a couple of things I'd do differently," he said. Things like installing more rails and putting in metal sheeting on walls to reduce wear.

"But of course I'll use it," Knudsvig said emphatically.

The project still needs finishing touches before it takes its final shape. Although something so long in the making might attract antsy skaters, Youth for Dallas Skate Park member and parent Terri Morgan cautions against early users. "The concrete's not cured yet," Morgan said. "If we can't keep the kids off it's going to ruin the concrete."

William's mother, Sharon Gibbons, enjoyed working with William and sister Jessie, the group's treasurer. "I had a blast working with the kids," she said.

"They learned to be leaders and advocates," Gibbons said. "I got real nervous when we got close to $10,000," the group's fund raising goal. She feared it would mean the end of the teamwork that brought the group together.

Car washes, bottle drives, local band shows and T-shirt sales helped them pass that goal, Jessie Gibbons said, raising nearly $12,000.

The extra investment will pay off in the future, said Dallas Parks and Recreation Director Al Knox. "While other cities have built parks with less money, this will always be a first-rate, first-class facility.

"It's a feather in the cap for Dallas," Knox said, "and a great place for people to practice their boarding skills." The skate park coming together shows how well different elements of the community can work together for a common goal, Knox said.

Parents like Sharon Gibbons help bridge the gap. "A lot of adults are afraid of skateboarders, but I support them," she said. "I'm real proud of my kids and other kids who stuck with it for three years.

"The only bumper sticker I have on my car says `Skateboarding is not a crime.'"

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