As cold and snowy as it can get in Madison over the winter, the occasional unseasonably warm and sunny day entices Madison residents with outdoor activities.
The same holds true for skateboarding enthusiasts across the city. But while you may be able to go for a walk or play a sport when the snow melts, until recently, no one could use Madison’s only downtown public skate park during the winter months. And even during warmer months, accessing the skatepark could be spotty at best.
I spoke with Scott Mitchel May; Madison resident, author, and skateboarder. He recounted how he saw a group of kids locked out of the park this past summer.
“I showed up, and it was the first day of skate camp, and there’s all these kids, and you know, they’re ranging in ages from like seven to thirteen-fourteen, whatever, and they’re just standing there and they’re locked out. And you know at this point someone explained to me that you gotta call the park rangers sometimes. Sometimes they can get here, sometimes they can’t,” he said.
Scott told me that he recently got back into skateboarding after a long hiatus, and began using the Irwin and Robert Goodman skatepark located at McPike park in downtown Madison.
The City of Madison Parks Division used to keep the park locked between the hours of 10PM and 8AM, as well as during the colder months, but it wouldn’t always be open when it was supposed to be.
That moment with the skate camp group upset Scott and his friends, who were disheartened at the idea that a poor experience like that might be the only introduction to skateboarding for some kids.
Scott and his friends say they recognize that the park rangers are often busy, and couldn’t always open the park on time. Eventually, Scott began to wonder why the park was even locked in the first place.
Scott expressed his frustration with the policy of locking the park.
“They would come out and they would open the park, but at the same time, you know, when I first started raising this issue in early November, really raising the issue for them, at first it was ‘Okay, well, we’ll just be better about unlocking it, I’m really sorry.’ And I would tell them ‘Look, you have parks employees, they’re busy people, so I understand they can’t get out here all the time. I’m no longer asking about making sure the policy is followed to a T, I’m now more interested in asking about why the policy exists at all,’” Scott said.
This went on for over a month.
“Once I started talking to the people in the mayor’s office about that specific point, like ‘If you can point to another park that you do this for, or you can point to why we’re so different than Waunakee skatepark, or Sun Prairie skatepark, or Beloit skatepark, or Sturgeon Bay’s skatepark, literally pretty much any other skatepark I’ve been to that remains unlocked during unoperational hours, then heck, yeah, sure, I’ll listen to you.’ And once I made those points it was very quickly that the next day I got the email that was like ‘Hey, we’ve circled back with the risk manager’s office and figured out that the skatepark can remain unlocked,’” Scott said.
Ann Shea from the Parks Division independently confirmed that the decision to remove the lock during the winter and the night was made to improve operational efficiency and promote inclusivity and public access at the park.
The park is now open, and Scott says that he can see the difference in the community.
“I was there last Sunday and this Monday, and both times I ran into people skating, and like I said, dads with kids, moms with kids, people out enjoying the park. The feedback I’ve heard when I’ve been there and from the skaters I know in the community has been overwhelmingly positive on this,” Scott recalled.
Although the park will no longer be locked at night, and will be open throughout the year, those using the park after the official closing time will still be subject to trespassing fines like any other public park.
Scott said that the push to open the downtown skatepark was a group effort, and couldn’t have been accomplished without the support of the Madison Skate Park Foundation, Jeff at Freedom Skate Shop, as well as the rangers and clerks in the Parks Division and the Mayor’s Office.
Reporting for WORT, I’m Erin Ashley.
Image Courtesy: Erik Hansman / UNSPLASH