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The 'zombie fence'

Dec 14, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Riverton's young skateboarders might be the catalyst to improve City Park

If you aren't normally a sports-page reader, we would recommend that you deviate from that practice and note staff writer Craig Blumenshine's "Sports Week" column from a few days ago.

In it, readers are introduced to the group of young skateboard enthusiasts working and hoping for a better place to practice and enjoy their sport in Riverton. A short video about them and their cause also is described in the column, and it's well worth the few minutes it takes to watch it at the link Craig includes in the piece.

Beyond the somewhat isolated question of the skate park, Craig explores the larger community concern of the deterioration of Riverton City Park, where the current makeshift skate park now stands.

The problem has been addressed in this editorial space in the past as well as at several Riverton City Council meetings in recent months, and it has been observed by thousands of residents for years now.

It's not that the park has deteriorated physically. It is green, shady and spacious, well cared-for and equipped passably with tennis courts, walkways, some playground equipment, some picnic tables, and the band shell in the northeast corner just across the fence from the skate park.

No, the deterioration has come from the near-abandonment of the park by almost anyone other than the city's grounds crew, the kids at the skate park, and, notoriously, the "park rangers" -- the name given to the array of vagrant drunks who more or less call the place home.

There is something of an out-of-sight-out-of-mind aspect to the situation. The park isn't used very much, so there isn't much interaction between the general public and vagrants. But seeing the kids in the video just trying to have some fun at the skatepark, and hearing them describe the fence that separates them from the park rangers as "the zombie fence" makes the issue hit a little harder than it does for those of use who drive by City Park without stopping.

This point isn't made overtly in their video, which was shown to the Riverton City Council this week, but a troubling similarity emerges in it between the skaters and drunks: too often they are ignored, disapproved of, or both.

Are the scowls of disdain aimed at the vagrants all that much different from the glares directed at the skaters? If a kid with a board is seen jumping a curb in your neighborhood, do you glower at him in a fashion similar to the expression on your face when an intoxicated panhandler appears?

If so, that's not fair. The skaters are among the very few citizens of Riverton who at least are trying to make some use of the park other than as a place for fighting, getting drunk or sleeping off a bender. They are doing the right thing, and they're asking for a little help.

In our weekly search of back issues of The Ranger for the Sunday photo feature called "The Way It Was," one of the striking realizations is how much City Park was used for community activities in years past. There were countless ball games, concerts, dances, ice cream socials, political rallies, public speeches, promotions, tennis tournaments, horseshoe tournaments, class reunions and simple family picnics. Now it's likely that the only time the average citizen of Riverton even goes there is for the once-a-year Riverton Rendezvous Day in the Park, or perhaps to a summer band concert, although those enjoy relatively sparse attendance due in part to the harassing presence of the park rangers.

Opinions vary. Solutions have been kicked around for some time now. Many of them have to do with police action or other government response. Certainly there is a role for both. But as the skater kids demonstrate with their presence, and which Craig Blumenshine advocates so ably in his column, the first step toward restoring the park'splace of public prominences is a simple willingness to go there.

An important opportunity exists for a partnership between the public and the local government, local business, schools, churches, service clubs and private citizens. Read Craig's list of suggestions in his Tuesday column. If you don't still have the paper, the column can be seen at our newspaper website www.dailyranger.com, as can the skate park video.

His list is partial. Readers may have other ideas that are just as good or better. All of them need to be heard and many of them tried.

The undesirable situation at the park won't get better by itself, but it will get worse. Restoring the park to full public use ought to be a community priority, embraced and supported by everyone. If it takes some kids on skateboards to lead the way, then so be it.

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