At skate park, safety should be a priority

Jun 25, 2013

The latest controversy in the decade-long effort to develop an area where skateboarders can practice their craft involves a safety and liability issue.

Skateboarders have long held that a requirement to wear pads and helmets would be a nonstarter for using the park.

The safety gear is uncomfortable, they contend, and impedes their ability to move nimbly on the rails, jumps and slopes that will be included in the $400,000 skatepark expected to be ready for use this fall.

Town leaders say they have no choice in the matter and cite state law requiring any entity operating an unsupervised skatepark to require the use of safety gear.

Given the risks in a sport involving balance, high speed, steep ramps and lots of concrete, there is too much at stake for town taxpayers to not follow the rules.

In our litigious society, too often those who get hurt look for somewhere to place blame or deep pockets to cover their loss. Unfortunately, towns and counties are often targets of such lawsuits, especially if those in charge haven’t followed the applicable laws.

This issue is not a new one. Skateboarders have frequently said they wouldn’t be using the skatepark and that the facility would not attract skateboarders from other communities if they couldn’t skate without pads and helmets. They reference two neighboring skateparks — Asheville, which has a nearly empty park because of its supervision and strict rule enforcement and Cherokee, which is often packed because the safety gear rule is overlooked. Area skateboard enthusiasts are hoping Waynesville’s park will fall into the latter category.

Using that strategy would not be wise. What happens if somebody gets hurt? Who gets sued? While it will be difficult for town officers to police the park at all times, skateboarders need to understand the risks involved. If someone gets hurt out there, it’s going to be up to a jury as to whether the town acted correctly in the manner.

The issue of skateboarding has been before many boards of aldermen in Waynesville. After actions banning skateboards on town property such as streets and sidewalks, town leaders have tried to create a safer place for those wanting to improve their skateboarding skills.

It will be a crying shame if the efforts and expense go to waste because skateboarders refuse to follow the rules. But it would be a tragedy if a child’s life is cut short or altered inextricably because of an accident or serious injury at a town facility where safety isn’t a top priority. Experienced skaters need to follow the rules and serve as role models to younger skaters. For those who don’t want to wear the gear, the Waynesville park isn’t the place to be honing your skills.