News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 17, 2013

Skateboarders, BMX bike riders working to improve area of city park they use

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The sound of small wheels rolling across smooth concrete fills the air, accented by the clacking noise of a wooden skateboard coming to an instant stop on a metal edge before rolling on again.

Other sounds at the Voorhees Park skate park include BMX motocross bikes landing hard on the concrete apron or, once in a while, the sound of a bike crashing and its rider hitting the concrete.

But the rider always gets up and rides again. Falling is just part of the process of learning and improving.

“In the beginning, everyone falls, but whenever you find a true passion and love for this lifestyle, nothing will stop you,” said Miles Keller, 20, one of the more experienced skaters at the park. “If you get hurt, you just want to get back up again.”

There is a small community of friends who use the Voorhees skate park daily. Numbering normally fewer than 20, they perform amazing stunts and tricks on their bikes and ride skateboards with incredible skill. Skating or riding is their sport, their social scene and a huge part of their lives.

“It means a lot,” said Bryson Bones, 13, of Terre Haute. “I’m down here every day.”

A.J. Jones of Terre Haute is the same.

“It’s a great way to relieve stress,” Jones said of riding his BMX bike. “Every chance I get I’m here with [friends] or by myself, it don’t matter. It’s a great place.”

If not for the skate park, these skaters and bikers, nearly all young men or boys, would be at Indiana State University, the public library or someplace else where they are not welcome, they said. The city’s skate park gives them a place to have fun and improve their skills without trespassing or damaging anyone’s property.

The skate park is a $300,000 structure built into the ground on the north end of Voorhees Park, one of the city’s smaller parks at the corner of Voorhees and Prairieton Road. The urban park is bordered on three sides by defunct or active industrial or business sites and by small homes to the east.

“We try to be as friendly as possible and welcoming” to new users of the skate park, Keller said. “Our skate scene’s not very large, so we try and rope in as many people as possible.”

Now, to improve their park’s appeal, the skaters and bikers have formed a group, known as On-board United Initiative (OUI), which is working to raise money to benefit the park. Their first effort is an event planned for June 21 at Voorhees Park. It will feature music, raffles, vendors and more.

OUI’s first goal is to raise enough money for a drinking fountain near the skate park, something that hasn’t existed for a while. They have goals beyond that, but the drinking fountain is the first step.

“It would be real nice,” said Bones. “We bring water but it’s a pain because it’s hard to carry it on a bike.”

Eddie Bird, superintendent of the Terre Haute Parks and Recreation Department, said he favors installing the new fountain if OUI can raise the funds. If they come up just a little short, the park budget could fill a small gap of $100 or $200, he said.

The Terre Haute skate park “is still one of the best in the state,” Bird said, but funding anything new is currently a problem for the entire city park system. In the past several years, the Terre Haute Parks Department budget has been cut by about a third, city officials have said.

So, for now, improvements to the skate park are a volunteer effort by those who enjoy it the most and, practically, call it home.

“I come up here about every day,” said Scotty Buker, a skilled BMX rider taking a break from riding. “It keeps you out of trouble. And, to me, it’s about hanging out with friends.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com