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Youth, City Supportive of "Unofficial" Skate Park

For skateboarders, finding decent spots to do big tricks and safely hang out with their friends can be hard to find. Under an overpass of I-471 in Newport, a concrete gem exists for exactly these kinds of people.

Gary Collins, 37, owns Galaxie Skate Shop on Monmouth Ave. in Newport and maintains the skate park under the highway. He has taken it upon himself to clean up any garbage and paint over the graffiti that occasionally crops up at the spot. Why doesn't the city of Newport do this, you might ask?

“It's not sanctioned. (The city) knows it's there and they work with us,” Collins said. “I have meetings with Code guys about anything we might be doing wrong as far as breaking code.”

The city is well aware of the skateboarding activity that takes place there on a daily basis, and seemingly tolerates it, but is apprehensive about turning it into an official city park due to the liability that comes with such an effort. Instead, Newport Mayor Jerry Peluso will inform Collins personally if the place needs any kind of attention or maintenance. So far, the relationship has worked well between the city and the skateboarding community.

“They do a very good job of policing and taking care of that area themselves. They've been a great neighbor,” Mayor Peluso said about the skate park. “It's never been done officially, so it's just something they've done themselves. And that's pretty much just the way it's been.”

The only real incident between the two parties was when Collins and his friends poured concrete against some of the pillars that hold the highway up, wanting to use the new embankments for more skate tricks, but highway maintenance officials quickly stopped the effort, citing concerns about the possible structural integrity issues to the pillars. Collins and crew worked hard that night to separate the concrete they poured from the pillars and the issue was amicably and quickly resolved.

“It was our best work ever, it was so perfect. But then the next day, the construction crew working on 471 had to inspect all the pillars and they had to be able to see that we didn't compromise the pillar. So when we built all the way up around it, we kind of encompassed it, and we had to knock out about two inches all the way around it with a chisel and a hammer," Collins said.

The skate park came into existence about six years ago when the city donated a concrete ramp it used during the Rolling on the River event to then-Galaxy Skate Shop owner, Andrew Martin, who put the ramp under the overpass. Once Collins took over the shop in 2010, he started adding more onto the park.

“I knew that it was directly correlated with the business,” Collins said. “The more people that get to come skate there, the more people are going to come to the shop.”

But making money was not the only concern for Collins. As a Northern Kentucky native himself, he felt it was important to provide the area's youngsters with a quality skate spot.

“We never had anything cool like that. Now that it's there, it's rewarding to me because I get to see all of these young kids who have stuff that I didn't have,” said Collins. “The cities aren't even giving it to them like we're giving it to them and that is what's really sick. There was never anything happening skateboard-wise in Northern Kentucky when I was a kid.”

Mayor Peluso also sees the park as healthy activity for the neighborhood's youth.

“It gives young people something to do that they really enjoy doing,” the mayor explained. “Instead of skateboarding on somebody's brick wall or stone wall, it gives them a space to do what they enjoy and I think it's worked out pretty well.”

The space is certainly well used. Both Collins and Peluso say that it is not uncommon to see upwards of a hundred kids or more at a time.

“There are tons of people there everyday. Guys come from all over the Midwest,” Collins said.

The mayor says he occasionally drives over to the park to observe and talk to the people that use it and that he has been pleased with what he sees on his visits.

“They're not really bothering anybody,” he said. “There's really no one that lives over in that area. There's no houses around, they're not on anyone's private property. That area attracts a lot of young people who are active in organized sports, and in this case, unorganized sports which they have organized themselves.”

Collins says that city leaders have discussed ideas about putting in an official, city-owned skate park in the next five years or so. According to him, they initially suggested that the new park be put in at the existing park's sight, but Collins was against that proposal.

“Really I just didn't want them to tear that down, because we built it, young kids built it and it would be a shame to tear it down just to build some new stuff,” he said. “I think they can just do it somewhere else and have two.”

That somewhere else, in Collins' opinion, should be more centrally located within the city of Newport.

“The way it is now, Bellevue reaps all of the financial benefits of it because it's right on the boarder and all those stores and restaurants are right there in Bellevue. So all of the people at the skate park go to those stores every day," Collins said. "If Newport is going to spend all that money on a new skate park, then you would want it to fiscally benefit the area's businesses.”

Collins says that the reason skaters are so enthused about the spot is because it's constructed entirely of concrete. Other, city-owned skate parks like the one in Ludlow have metal ramps, which don't allow the support skateboarders need to gain maximum height and speed on their tricks.

“Since it's made out of concrete, it already gives it a leg up compared to that metal crap. Also it's not so run of the mill. Those metal ramps are kind of run of the mill, but at the bridge it's a little bit more unorthodox, mostly because it's free-handed, so it's much more of a street-skating feel versus a skate park and they really like that. I know that I do.”

To those who feel all of this sounds dangerous, the amount of injury that has taken place at the park has been minimal.

“They've only made like two or three paramedic runs down there in the six years it's been there,” Collins said.

Mayor Peluso agrees.

“We've had very little, if any, problems from that skate park at all.”

An effort is underway to raise money for the skatepark. You can find details on that by clicking here.

Written by Bryan Burke, RCN Associate Editor

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