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City plans skate park for preteens at Sitka Street Park

Rosemary Shinohara

A new kind of skate park for Anchorage, one built into the ground and aimed at young, beginner skateboarders, BMX bikers and in-line skaters, is expected to take shape in Sitka Street Park between Merrill Field and Chester Creek later this year.

The city Parks and Recreation Commission endorsed the plan in January, and the Anchorage Park Foundation has $60,000 to pay for it.

"That's our starting point," said city parks planner Josh Durand. "They may need to do additional fundraising."

The concept is to build a concrete bowl for small kids just starting out, and another one for youths a little older, Durand said. The targeted ages are 5 to 12. "The features are going to be designed in such a way that older kids won't be interested," said city parks superintendent Holly Spoth-Torres.

There would be a cobblestone plaza between the two skate bowls with seating for parents and other nonskaters.

"From talking with people who do this in California, (the $60,000) is enough money to build a skate park. But things cost more here," Durand said. So he's not sure if the money will cover costs.

But if everything goes well, the Sitka Street skate park could be installed by October, he said.

The two other outdoor skate parks in Anchorage are above-ground. One is at Taku Lake Park near the Old Seward Highway and Dimond Boulevard, and the other next to the Spenard Recreation Center.

Sitka and Wasilla both have concrete, laid-in-the-ground skate parks.

Frost-heaving is a concern for concrete in Alaska parks, Durand said. A civil engineer will determine what needs to be done to prevent it, he said. The city plans to find an experienced skate park builder to design and install the Sitka Street Park skate facilities. Grindline is one such company, he said. "In Sitka they installed a very successful park."

Wasilla Mayor Verne Rupright said the city hasn't had any problems with the concrete in its park either.

"The only problem you've got at a skate park is teenagers," Rupright said. Cliques develop, he said. Park rangers walk the parks in summer, when on a nice day as many as 200 kids are using the skate park, Rupright said.

The one planned for Sitka Street Park is small, at less than 5,000 square feet.

"We didn't want the park to become a destination so that folks all over town would be coming, said Geran Tarr, who was Airport Heights Community Council president and is now a state representative. "We want to keep it as a neighborhood park."

Sitka Street Park is well-kept, and popular with Fairview residents as well as people living in Airport Heights. It is 28 acres, with a picnic shelter, playground, a sand volleyball court, a sledding hill and an open field.

Volunteers and parks maintenance staff did basic fix-it projects in Sitka Street Park during the summers of 2011 and 2012. Then a committee of Airport Heights Community Council members and park users wanted to find another positive use for the park that would involve neighborhood youth, and chose to pursue a skate park.

"The idea came from neighbors in Airport Heights who have young kids and were looking at this as a recreational opportunity," Tarr said.

Nathan Pannkuk is one of the parents behind the skate park. His son, Jackson, is now 6 and started skateboarding when he was 3. It's great exercise, Pannkuk said, and it builds confidence.

"And it would be way better than the half-pipe in his bedroom," Pannkuk wrote in an email.

On vacations, they've sought out skate parks in Oregon, California, Colorado and elsewhere, Pannkuk said. Pannkuk skates, too, and his daughter, Lily, sometimes joins in with in-line skates.

"I think Alaska is significantly behind the curve observed in the Lower 48 where new public skate parks are becoming more and more common," Pannkuk said.

The Sitka Street skate park plan won approval from both Fairview and Airport Heights councils.

S.J. Klein, president of the Fairview Council, said there's a lot of opposition to skate parks in Anchorage, "if you're talking about the larger ones where teenagers hang around."

"The goal with this one, the way they talked us into it, it'd be something advanced skaters wouldn't be interested in," Klein said.

A whole bunch of 10-to-12-year-olds showed up at the Fairview council meeting when the skate park was considered a couple of months ago and helped convince the council, he said.


Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340.