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Skateboarders still seek venue after Cool Springs Park construction is halted
Georgia Mountains YMCA recently opened a small skateboard park
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If not at Cool Springs Park, then where?

A group of teen skateboarders and their advocates want to know the answer - again.

Members of the recreation group had been following the plans in motion on their behalf. Development of the 75-acre property was to include a skate facility on par with Gwinnett County's Duncan Creek Park, a go-to place for many extreme sports enthusiasts in Hall County.

But Hall County commissioners' recent decision to halt construction at Cool Springs has skateboarders questioning the integrity of elected officials.

They invited children to be a part of the skate park's design process in 2009 with California skate pro Wally Hollyday. That some Hall officials now are deliberating whether ballfields should continue being built on the property only strengthened the teens' opinions.

"We should have the same rights as other sports," said Christian Alvarado, 16, a skater who attended Hollyday's brainstorming session with kids at Chestatee Middle School.

"If our generation doesn't get (a skate park), the next generation will be asking for it," added Willy Calderon, 16.

Despite county leaders' assertions that they are reassessing overall recreation priorities, the project's stall has some residents revisiting arguments specific to skateboarders.

At the helm of the lobby is Mary Paglia. She has owned the Upper Deck skate shop in downtown Gainesville for eight years. She blames a profound generation gap as well as a racial bias against Hispanics, a large part of her customer base, as undermining advancements for Hall County skaters.

"I still think it is an older mentality. They see it as a dark, underground sport. No one wants to face the fact that skateboarding is a mainstream sport," she said.

"They don't understand the young families who need this facility. There is a misconception that skaters are gang kids. Skating keeps kids out of gangs."

William Ferguson, whose 13-year-old son Gavin skates, acknowledged trouble can exist in any kid who plays any sport, be it skateboarding, football or baseball.

But the actions of a few should not threaten the community's support of responsible and achieving athletes simply because they share an unconventional passion, said Ferguson, whose family lives in Flowery Branch.

"There are a lot of other kids out there just like (my son) who have nowhere to go. That's why you see them in the vacant lots and parking lots," said Ferguson, who spoke out against a skateboarding ordinance in Gainesville.

"If you're going to restrict the kids from having certain areas to do things, you need to design an area for them to do it. Where are our kids going to go skateboard?"

At least one organization in Hall County has answered skateboarders' facility needs.

The Georgia Mountains YMCA recently opened a small park at its Howard Road center. Children and teens were consulted during the design phase, said David Smith, who works with the YMCA's member services.

"Rather than have them skating all over the place, they'll have a place to go where they're not in danger zones, or out in the streets," Smith said.

Skating fees are reasonable, with costs for nonmembers $2 to $5, depending on gear rental.

However, the location can be tricky for some teens, especially, since many skaters glide from their homes to meet-up locations. A bigger drawback to skaters is the smaller size of the park, which can handle six to eight skaters at a time. (Duncan Creek Park, also designed by Hollyday, is roughly 20,000 square feet.)

Skateboarders thrive in packs and enjoy the challenge of larger settings, explained Blake Long, 17, who works at the YMCA park.

He was disappointed with the decision to halt construction at Cool Springs, where he hoped a competitive venue would boost skaters' individual and group achievements.

"There is nothing you have to worry about except skateboarding," he said.

"(Skateboarders are) like a family, outside your home."

The teens do see a need for more public education about skateboarding.

The sport is no longer an extreme California subculture alone, made famous by Tony Hawk. Skateboarding is being considered as an Olympic sport with any number of pros earning titles and big money on nationwide circuits.

Balance, agility, mental focus and raw toughness are among the qualities a skater needs, Alvarado and Calderon explained. So is style. And yes, that can mean baggy pants.

"You like to be loose," Alvarado said, shaking his arms and legs for emphasis. "Everyone skates differently. But you have to be comfortable."

While most skaters don't mean trouble, they do admit they're attracted to public challenges - stairs, rails and curbs. Visits with police are commonplace, too.

"They always write your name down," Calderon said, shaking his head. "The point is, you'll see my name down, ‘Willy, for skating.'"

Some officers have been kind to them, though, with one in particular once asking to see some board maneuvers, also called tricks. The teens remember his support and encouragement and said they hope other leaders will take that attitude some day.

Until then the boys plan to keep on skating, they explained together.

"That (there's not a skate park) is not going to change anything," said Lucio Molino, 16.

"It's not like we're going to stop because of this," his friend Adan Ruvalcaba, 16, added.

"If you take away the park, we just have to go make our own parks," Long said.

Because skating is what they do.

"It's making memories," Molina said. "It's making memories with our friends."

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