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The Business of Tourism
South Kitsap SkatePark could become tourist attraction

Ian Wilhelm skateboards at recently opened South Kitsap SkatePark in Port Orchard, which is proving very popular and has the potential to draw skateboarders and events from outside the area.While growing up in Milwaukee, Wis., Ian Wilhelm started skateboarding at age 6. He always carried his skateboard with him and used to go on “tours” to the West Coast to check out parks. Whether he hitchhiked or took the train, the skateboard was always there.

“It was everything from my pillow to my friend,” he said.

Now living in Port Orchard and working as a union carpenter, Wilhelm still carries his skateboard everywhere he goes. He’s never stopped skating for the past 31 years.

“I’ve traveled all over the country skating. It’s an obsession. You gotta skate them all,” he said.

Wilhelm is like many skateboarders — young and old — who have such a passion for the sport, they’ll travel for many miles to experience it. And if the recent Independence Day is any indication, the newly opened South Kitsap SkatePark in Port Orchard will give those skaters a good reason to trek to Kitsap. Several adult skateboarders traveled from Seattle and Portland to check it out over the holiday weekend, and some spent the weekend camping in Manchester. Even Thrasher Magazine — which caters to skateboarders all over the world — showed up for the grand opening in June. The event attracted about 3,000 people, including a champion skateboarder from California.

“The potential is unreal. We got such an amazing park,” Wilhelm said.

Of course, as the treasurer of South Kitsap Skate Park Association (SKSPA), he may be slightly biased. The nonprofit was the one that spearheaded the project and for Wilhelm, it was the 17th skatepark he helped build. But, he noted, it’s a $4 billion industry worldwide — and the potential is not just in people coming to try the park but also in various events and competitions.

What makes the South Kitsap SkatePark unique is its versatility. It accommodates any type of wheels, from scooters to bikes (even BMX bikes as long as the pegs are plastic). The design features a bowl, a full pipe, a “ditch” with a quarter-pipe and a “whale’s tail,” plus a small plaza.

“Everybody loves it. The smiles on people’s faces are ear to ear,” said Leslie Reynolds-Taylor, president of the association.

Reynolds-Taylor said the park has been in the works for more than seven years. Owned and maintained by Kitsap County (as part of South Kitsap Regional Park), the 14,700-square-foot park cost $425,000 to build. The money came largely from grants, both to Kitsap County through the state recreation conservation funds and to SKSPA from several large donors, including the C. Keith Birkenfeld Memorial Trust (the largest, at $75,000), Fred Meyer, Port Orchard Rotary and the Tony Hawk Foundation. The organization, which contributed a total of $110,000 to the project, also hosted fundraisers such as concerts at MoonDogs, Too and other events.

Reynolds-Taylor knows all about the parks as a tourist attraction. When her now-adult son was young, she would take him to Oregon for a week at a time, traveling around to different skateparks.

“I think the potential is huge. We built it for local kids but it could bring people in from all over,” she said.

By next year, the final phase of the park will extend the footprint by another 8,000 square feet. Kitsap County received a $235,000 grant that will be used to add to the plaza and make other improvements as part of a master plan for the 193-acre South Kitsap Regional Park. Only about 50 acres are currently developed — home to a playground, batting cages and other amenities — and the master plan includes a total of four baseball fields, four soccer fields and a community center, among other things. About $2 million in investments have been made into the entire park, with the rest of the master plan requiring another $20 million.

Ric Catron, Kitsap Parks and Recreation park project coordinator, said it’s very important for a community to have facilities such as the regional park so the local youth have things to do. But he also sees the economic development that the park can bring.

“The park is large enough to bring in people for events. They’ll come here for more than a day and they need lodging, meals, and sometimes they bring families so they’re interested in other things going on,” said Catron, who has been involved previously with several skate parks in Oregon.

Already, one group wanted to bring an event to the park in August, but the county couldn’t accommodate it. There are a few wrinkles that need to be ironed out — for one, the parks department hasn’t set up policy yet about events. Repeated vandalism to the portable bathroom — including someone blowing it up over July 4 — and safety issues due to overcrowded parking have also brought up additional concerns.

“We’re trying to address safety issues and calm down the traffic. (The park) is so popular, there’s a safety issue with people and cars,” said Kitsap County Parks Director Jim Dunwiddie. “We didn’t have a long enough time to address local use, let alone events.”

He said it would take a few weeks to deal with the safety concerns and a couple of months to set up an event use policy. “If a permit came in two months from now, I would think we’d be ready for it,” he said. “The grand opening showed the potential for the site and we just need to strike a balance between general use and special events.”

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