Visiting Veneta’s skate park makes it clear Cottage Grove can do same

DANA MERRYDAY/CHRONICLE PHOTO – Action last week at the Veneta Skate Park includes scooters and boards.

What does it take to move a mountain, or better yet, build one? As you travel the Territorial Highway south of Oregon Route 126, you will see a mountain of sorts, the City of Veneta’s Skate Park.

Since I am interested in helping create an improved facility for wheeled sports in Cottage Grove, I stopped there recently and happened to have my camera with me.

I talked with the local youth who were riding a mix of skateboards, scooters, and bikes. When the lads volunteered that they were not that impressed with what they had, I was shocked! I was up two stories and looking down a wide variety of bowls, rails and terrain to navigate. “The kids in Cottage Grove would take this in a minute,” I replied incredulously. 

I am sharing some photos of the Veneta Skatepark, taken with permission of local youth, just to show what could be possible here, too. 

The Veneta kids also disclosed that their favorite place to ride was in Eugene at the Washington/Jefferson or “WJ” Skatepark. Search YouTube for “WJ Skatepark Eugene Oregon” and enjoy seeing that wonderland for wheels.

Those jaded Veneta kids would really turn up their noses at what our local kids have to ride on. The effort to create the current Skatepark in Cottage Grove goes back 23 years. The park has had its ups and downs and for a more detailed history of the Skatepark see the Chronicle article in the July 14, 2021 issue. 

A quick synopsis of the Skatepark is that only half of the planned park was built; what was constructed was planned by well-meaning volunteers who weren’t professional designers, which has led to a number of problems over the years because of those origins. The park has additionally faced a series of maintenance and vandalism issues over the years.

The results of a community survey on the Skatepark by the City’s Public Works Department, conducted during last summer, were presented to the City Council at the January 24 meeting by Assistant City Planner Matt Laird. Of the 122 responses to the survey, an estimated 70% of those came from either park users or their parents. 

Laird summarized the results in the following manner, noting where there was broad consensus as reported in the council minutes. “Generally speaking, most respondents are frustrated with the design and construction of the park, making it difficult to enjoy it,” reading through a list of requested improvements. Laird further recommended that suggested improvements be grouped into short, medium and long-term goals, reach out to ODOT about acquiring additional public right-of-way to expand the park, begin the dialogue regarding funding, and to start community conversation about forming a volunteer group to help guide the process of addressing these survey findings.

After Laird’s presentation, both Councilor Greg Ervin, who has long been on the record as an advocate of improving the Skate Park, and Councilor Stinnett voiced their support for beginning the process to bring about a more usable and all age-groups facility for Cottage Grove. Ervin noted that in its current state, the park makes a statement to youth of neglect, outcasted, caged in, and separated; and that his hope is for “A year-round facility complete with a roof, lighting, and bathrooms, that invites all age groups. 

Stinnett noted that the current park sees frequent use and that there are a significant number of people who see value in the park.

Mayor Gowing added that “Talking with ODOT is a must and has to be the first step.” So things sat for a while. The council has had other business and concerns that have distracted them from taking steps in improving the park.  

Near the end of the marathon, 4-hour-plus City Council meeting of April 25, Councilor Ervin during the “Concerns from Council” section, besides mentioning housing availability and a report back from the Lane County Workforce Board on which he serves, returned again to voice his support of wanting to act on the findings of the survey and providing something better for Cottage Grove youth to use and enjoy. “It’s still pretty important to me, and to the members of the community to have a well lit, covered, bathroom onsite, accessible, redesigned, and possibly expanded Skatepark. I want to, as a community, to send a message that we are looking at your kids, and want you to have a place to congregate that says we care …I don’t want to let this possibility die.”

Councilor Ervin then urged the group to consider the next moves such as talking with Dreamworks or other skatepark design companies and explore what can be done. Councilor Roberts echoed his support for not forgetting about working toward a more usable park.  

Perhaps the most appropriate comments came from the Youth Advisory Representative Emma McDonald. “I want to thank the Councilors for their interest in the Skatepark because I know the importance it has to lots of youth. I would suggest the involvement of youth in asking opinions on what we could do to improve the area. I know that there’s a bunch of ideas.”

Without youth buy-in and involvement, the efforts may succeed in creating some kind of park, but there’s no guarantee that it will be used, cared for, or enjoyed as much as if there is the ownership comes through youth being listened to and having them as valued team members in the process along with them contributing some sweat equity.

Before the Council’s dismissal that evening, Director Stewart gave a response to Ervin and others on the status of the Skatepark: “I am still working on fixing some of the smaller things and waiting for the concrete contractor to come and try and see if we can salvage any of the bowls and make them more usable. Referring back to the report, there were four recommendations, the most important of which was probably forming a working committee, with a councilor’s leadership that has some knowledge, a youth advisory person, and putting together some members from the committee and to come up with some proposals.” 

Since that time Stewart and Ervin met and the wheel is beginning to turn. Councilor Ervin reached out to this reporter and preliminarily several steps are in motion. There is a public Facebook group, “Friends of Cottage Grove Skatepark.” The first planned event is to have a day at the Skatepark for all interested wheel riders to come out, meet, share ideas, make connections, enjoy some food and music, do a little cleaning, and start rethinking what skating/riding could look like in the Grove.

A special event permit is in the works and the date for the “Roll the Bowl” Is Saturday, June 4, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Skatepark. Come out, tell us your ideas and dreams, have some fun and do some riding, and leave the scene better.  

The Chronicle, months ago, pledged to also be a friend and champion of the Skatepark and riding in Cottage Grove, so stay tuned to this portal for more hyper local skating news!

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