Parents urge commissioners to build skateboard park in Jackson

On Tuesday evening, 11-year-old Ronnie Patterson said goodbye to his home away from home.

Patterson is a skateboarder, and for the past year he’s spent nearly every afternoon at the Disciples Youth Center skate park on U.S. 441 in Jackson County.

Now the center’s creator, Jeff Kelly, said he’s been forced to close its doors because he can’t continue to pay the rent out of pocket.

Kelly started the center as a non-denominational youth ministry to offer an alternative environment for kids who didn’t participate in team sports.

“We knew how much time we had,” Kelly said. “We did it because we saw the need was there, and in the bigger picture, maybe the county would see it was a good thing for the community.”

Kelly, Ronnie’s father Jack and Doug Nickel attended a Jackson County board meeting this week to urge the commissioners to appropriate funds for a county skate park.

Nickel, who spent 20 years in law enforcement, currently runs a skate ministry in Franklin called The Walk. He told the commissioners how the image of skateboarders as law-breakers and punks is a stigma that adults need to leave behind.

“A lot of these kids have completely turned their lives around,” Nickel said. “I am not a bleeding heart, but I am a reformed skater hater.”

Kelly hopes the county will act on his suggestion quickly. He has offered to donate the ramps from his skate center and organize the volunteer effort to staff the park, as long as the county can provide a space and the necessary insurance.

“We’re willing to do whatever it takes so it doesn’t really cost the county anything,” Kelly said. “We’d love to do something quick, because we’ve got the ramps.”

Kelly said he had spoken to county parks and recreation staff about the possibility of building a skate park at Mark Watson Park immediately while plans for a larger park with a permanent home are in the works.

County Commissioner Chairman Brian McMahan responded positively to the group’s pleas, recounting a story of visiting an impressive municipal skate park in Syracuse, N.Y.

“I think it’s a great idea, and I look forward to working with our recreation department to get this on the county’s master plan,” McMahan said.

The positive reaction was music to Ronnie Patterson’s ears. The Scott’s Creek Elementary School student summoned his courage to address the county commissioners on his own terms, telling them a story about losing a friendship before the skate park helped him find his way to positivity.

“This park has been a good community for everyone that’s gone to it, and everyone there would hate to see it go away,” Ronnie said.

His father, who has six other children, seconded the emotion.

“Having a place for these kids to go in Jackson County would be a big benefit for a lot of young people,” Jack said.

The Town of Waynesville has been working toward an outdoor skate park for more than a decade. The skate park is currently in the design stage, but the road to get there has been long and costly.

So far, the town has spent $28,500 simply to create a plan. The cost of building the park on land the town already owns will fall between $275,000 and $325,000.

Meanwhile the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has plans to replace its existing skate park in Yellowhill with a state-of-the-art facility on a 3.5-acre tract just up the road.

Tribal Council approved up to $600,000 in funding for the project, which is now in the design phase and could be completed by early next year.

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