WENATCHEE — Wenatchee will extend Hale Park Skatepark hours to 10 p.m. after calls from the skateboarding community advocating for the change.
The Wenatchee City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to extend skatepark hours — and turn on lights until closing — starting Monday, the soonest city maintenance teams can get to the park. The council plans on updating city code to allow the change in the coming weeks.
In October, the council approved dawn-to-dusk hours for all city parks in an effort to deter vandalism and other incidents. This meant lights at the skatepark, 720 S. Worthen St., weren’t used and skaters were limited to skating in hot daylight hours during the summer and had shorter hours in winter.
The issue was originally raised by 13-year-old Sam Wagner, who wrote a letter to city council members on July 1. “It’s cool that they are going to give it a chance and turn on the lights,” Wagner said in a text after the meeting. “I hope it works out, but I really think it will.”
Although he wasn’t able to make the city council meeting, other skaters said they came to the meeting to support Sam and the changes he was asking for. Skater Stone Parker said he drove from Leavenworth to attend the meeting after seeing a story about Wagner in The Wenatchee World.
“We need to have kids out there playing,” Parker said. “I’ve been to skate parks where they’ve been on till late at night, and then all of a sudden, they turn off and everyone goes off. That’s what I see happening here.”
Before voting on the issue, council members and Mayor Frank Kuntz discussed the issue for about 15 minutes.
“You understand where we have a policy because we’ve had a lot of vandalism in the parks and they’re public spaces and so we’ve really struggled with a right way to deal with this,” said Kuntz, adding that the lights were put in before the city changed its policy on park hours.
“And I get that,” Council member Ruth Esparza responded. “When are we using the lights, though?”
Council member Keith Huffaker supported holding some type of recurring event, like a Friday night skate clinic. “If you create an event and you put somebody in charge of that event and they make sure that everybody’s following the rules, we can see some leeway in that,” he said. “But if it’s a general event and nobody’s in charge, then we have the vandalism issue.”
Council member Mark Kulaas said turning on lights for just the skatepark would be picking and choosing which groups get special privileges. “It’s access for everyone to recreational facilities — no matter if you’re a skateboarder or a disc golfer.”
Casey Cooper, who worked with Parks and Recreation on the design committee for the park, pushed the council to turn on the lights all night. He said before the lights were installed and while they’ve been off, there have been numerous issues with human waste and vomit being found in the bowls, which he says skaters try to clean up using bleach.
“I’m down there every night,” he said. “It’s not the skateboarders or anybody using that park that’s causing problems; it’s the people that are up to no good. What we’ve seen is the darkness kind of brings them in and that light keeps them out.”
Kuntz told Casey and the skaters giving public comments that they will revisit how late to keep the lights on at the next council meeting in two weeks: “You’re gonna come back and tell us how things are going.”
Council member Jose Cuevas, whose district includes the skatepark, supported turning on the lights in the skatepark and said he’s open to keeping them on all night. “These guys gave us an honest response and we took it seriously,” he said. “It’s their voice and they want it (the lights on all night), and I represent their voice.”