Just a pipe dream?

Local skateboarding community pushes for improvements at Humboldt Neighborhood Park (again)

Scott Bailey advocates for improvements at Humboldt Community Park.

Scott Bailey advocates for improvements at Humboldt Community Park.

Photo Meredith J. Cooper

Get involved:
CARD will meet tonight (Sept. 17) to discuss moving forward with plans to improve Chico's skate park. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Lakeside Pavilion, 2565 California Park Drive.
Check out a video of Corning's skate park at tinyurl.com/corningskatepark.

Scott Bailey sat on a slab of concrete at the Humboldt Community Park while a handful of skateboarders and BMX riders took turns gliding through the larger of the skate park’s two bowls.

“I skate in Corning, Auburn and San Jose,” he said. “Those parks are so much better. Oroville’s park is 10 times better than this one. Every Sunday [my kids and I] skate, and we usually go to Oroville or Corning.”

Looking at it, and then watching videos of Oroville’s Bedrock Skate and Bike Park and Corning Skatepark, it’s easy to see that Chico’s only skate park offers few amenities. It has two relatively shallow bowls and a few rails and boxes for tricks. But, as Bailey pointed out, there’s no advanced-level bowl (he’d like to see one swimming-pool size) and there aren’t enough “street” features, like stairs.

He’s not the only one to have that opinion, either, and he’s requested the Chico Area Recreation and Park District (CARD), which owns the skate park, bring the matter up again for discussion. It’s on the agenda for tonight (Sept. 17).

“I’ll be asking the board to give me direction on how they would like the project to proceed,” Ann Willmann, CARD general manager, explained by phone. “But I am asking them to wait until 2016, because I’m still short-staffed and we have a number of other projects getting ready to go into construction.”

Willmann said the issue came up last year, after vandalism and problems with alcohol and drug abuse had ramped up at the park. That, plus the increase in Chico’s homeless population and the elimination of the Chico Police Department’s TARGET Team, which patrolled high-crime areas, made the skate park a priority. But staff reductions and turnover meant nothing ever went forward.

That doesn’t mean all that work won’t pay off, however. Willmann says she plans to use the findings from previous staff reports and public comments to direct her going forward. “I’m going to resurrect some of those meetings, plus get more input from the skating community,” she said, “to get us closer to actual plans. Construction plans.”

In May and June of last year, CARD held a series of community meetings to generate ideas for improving the park. The consensus then was that it was too small to attract high-level skaters, and just secluded enough to attract transients, drug users and general mischief-makers. Also, it was designed exclusively with skateboarding in mind—insurance back in 1998, when the park was built, would cover only skateboards and skates—but BMX riders wanted in on the action (after all, they ride at the park despite the fact they’re not allowed).

“The design is old. It’s out-of-date,” said Brent Schneider, a first-grade teacher and veteran skateboarder who also teaches skate camp at the Humboldt park during the summer. “The so-called bowl is poorly built, so it’s not very functional. The concrete sagged in a lot of places because they poured it by hand. I’d like to see a lot of the spots that are old and outdated be revamped.”

The three community meetings outlined these problems and generated solutions, including allowing BMX bikes, prolonging hours of private security, expanding the park into the grassy lot next door (which CARD also owns) and holding more classes and events there. It even went so far as to contract with a design firm to draw up plans—a schematic shows expansion of one of the existing bowls into an intermediate-level bowl and the addition of an advanced bowl area, as well as a new street course along the Humboldt Avenue entrance.

“One of the suggestions I brought to the table was: There’s the grass area, which is basically a place for transients to hang out. If they put in a skateboard pool there, that would draw the 40- to 50-year-olds, even the 30-year-old skaters to the park,” said Schneider, who attended last year’s meetings.

Yet nothing—not even an amendment to the Chico Municipal Code that pertains to Humboldt Community Park allowing bikes—was done.

“We spent quite a bit of time at those meetings, and then the bottom line was they just said, ‘Sorry, we don’t have the money,’” Schneider said.

Meanwhile, the problems with loitering, drug and alcohol use and a general lack of supervision that makes the park ripe for criminal activity persist. And many of the serious skaters, including parents with kids who skate, often head out of town in search of better parks. Not only that, but the “deviant behavior” at the park repels some parents. Schneider said he has never experienced negative activity at the park first-hand, but he knows it does happen. Bailey sometimes takes his kids there, but that negative stigma makes him less likely to do so.

“My sons are 12 and 9 and they’ve both been skating almost seven years,” Bailey said. “My daughter is 5 and she’s starting to skate. But I would never have them here by themselves—unless an adult I know were here.”

That’s one of the things Bailey, who teaches at Butte County’s juvenile hall, hopes to accomplish through the resurgence of interest in investing in the park—to increase adult use of the park. “Adult skaters are unpaid supervision,” he said.

Schneider agreed that appealing to the older demographic of skaters would be a boon to the park.

“Representing all genres of skating is important for having a successful skate park,” he said by phone. “Then you have people skating and not just hanging around all the time. If you have a facility for everyone, you’ll get a lot more participation instead of sideline watching. Get the old guys down there—I’m gonna push those [troublemakers] out of there.

“Give something to the skaters that they’re proud of and enjoy, and they’ll own it more,” he added. “There’s no ownership right now.”

In talking with other adult skaters in town, and other parents of skaters, Bailey said he sees a definite interest in working to improve the Humboldt park.

“I know it’s been a project that’s been waiting a long time,” Willmann acknowledged. “I just want to assure people who are interested in it that it is not going away. It’s important to both the board and myself.”