Falls Church Skaters, Residents Defend Skate Park Amidst Recent Controversy

skateANDREW.jpgFalls Church residents and law-abiding skateboarders alike are speaking out against the recent bad wrap given to the mobile skateboard facilities at Madison Park in a recent letter to the editor sent to the News-Press.

In her letter, City resident Linda Jones suggested that park users didn’t deserve the skate equipment, citing an instance where she and her elementary school-aged children decided to leave the park when, according to her account, some of the skaters were using profanity that only escalated when they were asked by adults to stop.
Multiple skateboarders wrote letters to dispute Jones, saying their experience has been quite the opposite and that taking the park away from them would remove an important outlet, which some said keeps them out of trouble and off city streets.
One veteran skater, 20-year-old college sophomore Andrew Pribulka, grew up in Falls Church, but not having a car as a teenager prevented him from commuting to other area skate parks. He said many of the younger kids he’s met at the park are in the same boat or can’t afford the cover fee alternative parks charge.
madisonparkmap.jpg“I know a lot of the kids would end up skating around the city if the park was taken away, which I’m sure would cause a lot of complaints from business owners and residents,” said Pribulka.
Jones was contacted in regard to the backlash, but did not comment before press time.
City of Falls Church Recreation and Parks Deputy Director Daniel Schlitt said Jones’ complaint isn’t the first he’s heard about the skaters’ poor behavior. However, calls reporting profanity, litter and drug and alcohol activity on the premises are few and far between. And as of now, Schlitt assured, concerns are not serious enough to result in the removal of the recreational area.
“It’s not our intention for it to be taken away. We expect, as with many programs we offer, that there is going to be a good and bad side, but we’ve got a lot of people using it with the right intention and doing so with the right frame of mind,” said Schlitt.
The mobile skate equipment, previously located in Cherry Hill Park, was purchased for $13,000 by the city in the fall of 2007 and includes two quarter-pipes, two grind rails, a box, a barrier and a few other makeshift ramps. But on March 6, the city’s Office of Communications released a statement that the Falls Church City police were investigating the disappearance and assumed theft of a grind rail valued at $400.
Pribulka blamed the negative letter for the theft, saying rumors are swirling at the park that the culprit took the rail out of fear the park could be shut down.
“Nothing would have been stolen if that letter hadn’t been written,” said Pribulka. “I heard kids were going to try and take it away before the city did because they said a city official came up to them and told them [the equipment] was going to be removed.”
Schlitt called the rumored presumption hearsay, stating that no city official has ever been to the park with any official reprimand or notice.
“I’ve been up to the park and looked around with the general manager of Community Services, but we never talked to anybody. We never even walked on the surface where the kids are riding,” said Schlitt, noting that the only other city employees regularly on site are on a maintenance crew. A member of that crew was responsible for originally reporting the missing equipment.
Leslie Rye has lived across the street from Madison Park since 1989 and said her and her neighbors fought hard to keep the property for recreational use when it was once considered opportune land for a new middle school in 2004.
“Our neighborhood supports the park, we love the park and we like to look out and see the kids enjoying it,” said Rye, adding that her college-aged son would often use the skate facilities when he used to live in the area.
She also vouched for the fact that the skateboarders aren’t the only ones with “potty mouths” and the capacity to abuse the park.
“Like any other part of the park, sometimes people play on the field when it’s muddy which ruins it. I’ve overheard young adults using profanity on the soccer field,” said Rye, who’s more concerned about the abuse of the equipment.
Schlitt said the city cannot afford to replace the stolen equipment and that once a piece goes missing, it’s gone for good.
“I understand there’s going to be angst between park users, profanity, trash and poor behavior — all that stuff we can work with. But when the equipment goes away, under current budget pressures, it’s not going to be replaced,” he said.
The park does not provide hired adult supervision unlike a handful of other area parks exclusively intended for skaters, though Schlitt said members of his staff visit the park on and off, especially when there are complaints from residents. However, it was easier for them to check when the equipment was located at Cherry Hill Park next to the community center versus its current setting on Lawton Street.
Putting herself in Jones’ shoes, Rye said adults don’t expect to be talked back to, in reference to Jones’ complaint regarding the worsening of foul language in response to her request for the kids to cool it.leslierye.jpg
“I think it’s just a proximity issue right now. The basketball court where the equipment is located is so close to the kiddie park,” said Rye.
Martin Berman-Gorvine works at an office building of suites behind the recreational property and often spends his lunch break reading on a park bench. Though his reading time is sometimes interrupted by the sharp sound of skate wheels hitting the pavement, he said he hasn’t heard any swearing spoken by the nearby skaters.
“I’ve only noticed the skate park recently, and they do make a bit of noise, but I haven’t really noticed any foul language,” said Berman-Gorvine.
Local skateboarder Danny Hickle, 20, thinks if any cursing is going on, it’s a generational issue of adolescents using cuss words to act cool in front of their friends, but doesn’t think it’s the skate park’s doing. Instead, he predicts they’d doing far worse things without the park.
“I think skateboarding keeps these kids out of trouble. If some of the kids didn’t have somewhere to skate, they could be selling drugs, joining gangs and getting into trouble,” said Hickle.
But the foul language around nearby small children wasn’t the only issue Jones’ letter addressed. A concerned mother of a young son who enjoys skateboarding, she recalled encountering scents of pot smoke near its previous Cherry Hill location.
Pribulka has been skating the equipment since last summer, but said that while rumors of drugs are true, it’s not a problem that lies with the skaters.
“I’ve known other kids to smoke weed before around [Cherry Hill Park] but they weren’t skateboarders or even using the equipment; they were just in the vicinity,” said Pribulka.
When asked about the alleged drug use, City of Falls Church Director of Communications Barbara Gordon said, “The Falls Church Police have no record of official complaints or investigations regarding illegal smoking in Cherry Hill Park during the time the city’s skate park was located there several months ago.”
Gordon assured the News-Press that anytime there are calls regarding any suspicious activities in any city parks, the police increase their patrols.
Schlitt challenged residents with a negative views of the park to go see the kids skate for themselves.
“I would like those parents that believe that it’s purely a bad element to go out there and take a look and watch the those who are using it for the right reasons and see the purpose that it serves, the positives of it. I would also continue to encourage parents to let us know when it’s not being used for the right reasons and we’ll continue to try to make it as positive an experience as we can,” said Schlitt.
Hickle noted the biggest advantage of the skate facility is having somewhere legal in the city to skate without stepping on, or skating over, anyone’s toes.
“People around Falls Church make a big deal about street skating; they don’t want you skating near their businesses, but if we don’t have a spot to call our own, we’re going to have to find one. It’s not a threat. It’s just inevitable,” said Hickle.
Falls Church purchased the skate equipment with the intentions of a portable skate park and is currently looking into other viable locations for the equipment. A permanent skate park site isn’t out of the question, though it all depends on how successful the park becomes.
“If things go well, it’s the intention of the City of Falls Church recreation division and the Recreation and Parks Advisory board that we upgrade one day to a permanent skate park for the kids, but if some to misuse it, take pieces and trash the place, that possibility could be lost,” said Schlitt. “My main advice for the kids who may be misbehaving is to think before you act or speak, because you’re really just going to ruin it for everybody.”