- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—MISHAWAKA — Sixteen-year-old Steven Bruster rode his skateboard, his main form of transportation, to Monday’s city parks board meeting to lament a proposal that would ban skateboards, longboards, inline skates and similar craft in eight city parks near downtown.

“If you ban us, it’s not going to stop us,” he told the board. “Most skateboarders are not going to pay a ticket.”

And you might as well ban BMX bikes and scooters, too, he suggested, “because they do just as much damage.”

Superintendent Terry Zeller said there’s been damage to city parks in recent years, especially along stairs and railings where skateboarders like to do their tricks. And there have been near collisions with other park users. He said police and citizens have been asking for a ban that could be enforced.

But, sensing a wealth of feedback and concern, Zeller and the board agreed to postpone voting on the ban so they could first hold a public hearing on it at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 18 at the Battell Community Center, 904 N. Main St. The vote would come at the next meeting after that.

“I have an issue telling skateboarders they can’t be there as well,” Mary Brown told the board, having lived on Mishawaka Avenue for more than 30 years. “You give them no alternative. They don’t want to be around us, but they need a place to go.”

The proposed ban would allow an exception for the Riverwalk.

Board member John Coppens asked if there’s any interest in the city offering a skate park. Zeller said he’s interested and thinks it should go on the parks’ list of long-range plans. He noted that he worked for the parks department in Reno, Nev., when it built an acre and a half skate park.

But he said a skate park wouldn’t be a “magic bullet” to solve damage issues in city parks because, he added, there are the skating enthusiasts who’d use such a park and there are the old-school skateboarders who don’t use skate parks, looking instead for places where they can “thumb their nose at authority.”

Steven said he’s only used the skate park at South Bend’s O’Brien Park a few times because it lacks the stairs, rails and other challenges that skateboarders like to film. If the city wants to build a skate park, he urged, they meet first with local skateboarders to get their input.

Bob Irish, who lives in Clay Township but volunteers with the city’s citizen patrol, told the board he was at the new, hugely popular Central Park recently when he observed a little girl in diapers playing in the splash fountain. A skateboarder zipped in and out, and he worried for the child.

Charles Mitschelen said he’s seen the damage in the parks and doesn’t like it. But he also has a granddaughter who rides a longboard, and added, “I’d hate to see the kids rejected because there are a few bad ones out there.”

As drafted so far, the ban would apply to Battell Park, Central Park, Beutter Park, Kamm Island, Lincoln Park, Kate’s Garden, Merrifield Park and Crawford Park. But the ban wouldn’t apply to the Riverwalk.

“If we can get a rule that focuses on the danger and damage and not on the recreation, we will serve our users well,” Zeller said.

Brown said she also feels as though speeding bicycles could be even more dangerous to people walking.

“I can hear the skateboarders (coming from behind) but I can’t hear the bicycles,” she said. “And I think a bicycle can hurt me a lot more.”

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