Burnsville skate park reaches new star status

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Skating demonstrations were part of the festivities at the Sept. 17 grand opening of the Burnsville Lions Skate Park. (Photo by John Gessner)
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Mayor Elizabeth Kautz and Burnsville resident Dick Manley, who were both involved with the drive to build Burnsville’s original skate park in the late 1990s, appeared at the Sept. 17 grand opening of the newly upgraded Burnsville Lions Skate Park. (Photo by John Gessner)

Ribbon cut on Burnsville Lions Skate Park

Looking out at a multi-age crowd of skateboarders, Lions Club members, city officials and other civic boosters, 40-something Olaf Gilbertson took the microphone and spoke from his heart.

“I have friends I’ve been skateboarding with for 31 years,” said the certified public accountant, who helped plan $267,000 in upgrades to Burnsville’s city skate park. “Me and my friends, now we skateboard with our kids. This will be here for their kids. This is concrete. This is forever.”

Nearly two decades in the making, the park’s latest version was unveiled in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday, Sept. 17. It’s a gem, said principal designer Kanten Russell, with new urban streetscape features and only the second in-ground bowl among Minnesota skate parks.

The park has been rechristened Burnsville Lions Skate Park, in honor of the club’s $95,000 contribution to the renovation. Many skaters weren’t born when the city laid the groundwork for the sleek park with new star status.

Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said four teenagers — Josh Sutherland, Adam Dagsgard, Sam Sawyer and Heather Manley — came to her in 1995, her first year in office, asking for a place to skate.

It was a “fringe kind of activity then,” and the kids — now 38-ish — were being kicked out of parking lots from Gideon Pond Elementary School to the Gateway Business Park, Kautz said.

She said she agreed to bat for them at the city level if they raised the money and momentum for a skate park. That included forming a nonprofit headed by Heather Manley’s father, Dick, who stood beside the mayor as she spoke Saturday.

City staff picked out available land near the maintenance garage in Civic Center Park. “And then once we got everything in place, I brought it before the council,” Kautz said. “And we rented this space to the Burnsville Skateboard Park Inc. that Dr. Manley put together.”

With no skate parks in the area, even the cities of Apple Valley, Eagan, Lakeville and Rosemount were among the donors to the $110,000 project, Kautz said.
It opened in 1998 as a Tier 2 park with features 4 feet and higher. Users paid admission. In 2002 it was refashioned as a Tier 1 park with no admission, no extra insurance requirements and no on-site supervision. At that point it became part of the city parks system, Kautz said.

In 2012 the park got a new concrete surface, updated equipment and other improvements. A fence around the park was removed. The $88,000 project was finished with the understanding that this was only the start of the park’s second phase. The best was yet to come, and park boosters — including skaters themselves and Zombie Boardshop, a Burnsville skateboard and snowboard store near Buck Hill — were expected to help raise money.

A committee was formed, including lifelong adult skaters like Gilbertson and Zombie owner Shawn Solem, to represent the skating community in the planning.

In May the City Council approved $125,000 for the project. Alongside major contributions from the city and Lions Club, other donations came from  Burnsville’s breakfast and noon Rotary clubs, Zombie, Coulee Bank, LCH Paper Tube and Core Co. and the Burnsville Skate Park Committee.

“This is an excellent little bowl they’ve got set up here,” said Minneapolis skater Isaac Fish, who took in the festivities Saturday. Fish, 43, abandoned skating 25 years ago before resuming six months ago.

“It’s designed pretty well, in my opinion,” said Fish, sporting long red hair and a scraggly red beard. “In my opinion, it’s one of the better parks in the area right now.”

Russell, the designer, is a former pro skateboarder who turned to engineering and design when his 13-year career was over. As lead designer for Stantec’s Action Sport Group, the San Diego resident has overseen nearly 100 skate park projects nationally and several in Minnesota.

“But this one, I think, is very special” because of the bowl, which the skating community insisted on, said Russell, 43.

He said the in-ground bowl on the upper tier of the 11,500-square-foot park is the largest and deepest in Minnesota.

“To be able to develop an in-ground bowl, you have to structure the drainage, things like that. It just takes a little bit more money,” Russell said. “But they were really determined to have this stand apart from any other skate park in Minnesota,  which it does as far as the free, public, outdoor concrete skate parks.”

The amoeba-shaped bowl mimics the emptied southern
California swimming pools used by daring young skaters who elevated the sport with their exploits in the 1970s. Other park features — such a six-stair set with handrail and step up, and a variety of grind ledges —  mimic urban skating landscapes.

“There’s definitely a heritage in skateboarding where it’s a mix of everything — it’s transition bowl riding, it’s urban street skating — and we’ve been able to combine all of them in the park here in Burnsville, which is why this is very special,” Russell said.

Gilbertson said the park is a place to “bring our culture together.”

“Skateboarding, growing up, gave me a lot of things,” he said. “It gave me a sense of identity. It gave me a focus. It kept me out of trouble. It gave me a positive environment to visit regularly. You can hear these guys cheering each other on.”