WALLOWA — Enterprise got one this year, and Wallowa hopes it will next year — a park that local kids on wheels can call their own.
Ron Pickens, who spearheaded getting Enterprise’s skateboard park not only revamped but totally rebuilt, is behind a similar effort in his home community of Wallowa for “anything with wheels,” he said Wednesday, Sept. 29.
“My hope with it is that when a kiddo pulls up and sees it that it’s friendly, fun and inviting, very much like a playground,” he said. “(Kids can) utilize bikes, scooters, roller blades and skateboards. It’s this colorful space that kids can play in.”
The town of about 800 people has virtually no place for kids who want to get out on their bicycles, skateboards, roller blades or scooters to go — except the streets.
“I think it’d be awesome,” said Mali Wilson of Lostine, who is one of Pickens’ alternative education students. “Instead of going straight home, we’d have somewhere to ride and practice some skills.”
In fact, the ninth-grader is so keen on bicycling, he rides his bike from Lostine every day.
“This kid’s an avid bicyclist. He’s got it. We’ve got another one converted to the ‘dark side’ of cycling, or the ‘light side,’ I guess we should say,” Pickens laughed. “The bike provides an opportunity to stay healthy and active versus the alternative of being indoors playing video games and being sedentary.”
Pickens has contacted the American Ramp Co. from Joplin, Missouri, the company that provided the new ramps and other obstacles at the Enterprise park.
“It’s going to be for ‘all of the above.’ This track is what you call a modular-style pump track,” he said, going over a diagram of a sample park. “They manufacture these pieces of concrete in Missouri. They put it on an 18-wheeler and ship it out here and they piece it together like a puzzle and build this series of rollers with these banked corners.”
The park would include various obstacles, such as a sloped track, ramps, hoops, pillars and others.
Youth supportAs Pickens talked, about a dozen enthusiastic youths gathered around to listen and offer their input.
“We haven’t had anything like that around here in a long time,” said Maddex Kendall, a Wallowa High School ninth-grader.
Sophomore Hunter Reeves agreed.
“We all skateboard, and there’s no place around to skateboard,” he said.
Josia Surber, an eighth-grader, said youths find ways to make do.
“The best we’ve got is either the concrete on the main road or when they lay new pavement on a street,” he said.
Even adults were there offering their input.
WHS counselor Kathryn Kemp said she took a couple local youths to the Enterprise park in August and even learned a bit about her own ability on wheels.
“I tried my hand at it and immediately stumbled and fell off, so I don’t think I’ll be skateboarding,” she laughed. “But I’ve heard from a lot of kids that they just want a place that’s theirs, somewhere to go after school.”
She asked the group what they usually do after school.
“We just go to our houses and hang out inside because there’s nothing to do outside,” Surber said.
Pickens asked the kids there if they’d been to the Enterprise park since it opened. Most said they had not, citing the close to 20-mile distance as an obstacle.
“Having something like this in their community is crucial,” he said.
Paying the billBut such a plan won’t come cheaply. At present, Pickens has no idea what it would cost.
“We’re going to be hitting the grant process pretty heavily,” he said. “By mid-October, we’ll have a number of grant applications out there. With the four that we’re submitting, it’s not going to be enough to cover the cost of this. It seems like December’s the next time to start submitting more grant (applications.)”
Although he’s not sure, he hopes the park can break ground in June or July and should only take a couple or three weeks to complete.
In Enterprise, Pickens originally planned to upgrade the existing park, keeping the costs low.
But his efforts got a surprise $51,500 anonymous gift so he was able to expand his plans, and with donations from Building Healthy Families — where the Alternative School is — the city of Enterprise, community groups, private individuals and businesses, they brought in about $77,000 and were able to add to their original plans.
Local supportPickens is, as yet, unsure how the Wallowa project will be received, but he’s optimistic and has been getting positive feedback from people other than the students who will use it.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “I’m super stoked that the school’s on board with it.”
He also has surveyed parents.
“Last year, we sent a survey out in the school to get the word from parents, if they wanted to say anything, if they thought there was adequate recreation in the community,” he said. “The results were interesting. Definitely, the community recognized that they’d like to see something.”
He also plans to approach the Wallowa City Council. He said he’s discussed it unofficially with Mayor Gary Hulse, but any city decision would have to come from the council.
“I will be chatting with the City Council at their next meeting Oct. 19,” Pickens said, before telling the group gathered, “I’d love to have any of you guys come with me to the City Council meeting in the evening. … All I’m going to ask from them is a letter of support.”
He said such a letter would be to include with grant applications he writes. But he’s also hoping the city could provide tangible support, as well.
“If there is an opportunity and they have the funding available, great, but my goal in going to Wallowa City Council is just getting support of this project for these kiddos,” he said. “I want to point out with these kiddos, they’re alluding to the fact that they don’t have that recreation after school for these kids.”
And Pickens wants input from the kids so they can feel invested in the playground, both financially and with their labor.
“If I can get the commitment from you guys to work with me on this,” he told them. “That’s kind of a big thing, getting you guys to buy into this. I definitely want you guys’ feedback and opinions.”