For decades, teenagers have fought to find their place in downtown Nashville.
This time, it’s skateboarders who are looking for support.
This week, a group of teens and adults plans to conduct a public meeting to talk about possibly establishing a skate park in or near Nashville.
Skateboarding recently has been banned on Brown County Schools property and hasn’t been allowed throughout downtown Nashville since 1989.
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Many local teens say having a designated place where they are allowed to hang out would send a positive message.
“Because then, like, they’re not trying to run us out of everywhere, and it’s like we’ve got more stuff to do,” said high school junior Ryan Slutz, hanging out with other students at the BETA teen center.
“That’s why a lot of kids get in trouble, because they think they know what’s a good idea and then they do something stupid just because they have nothing else to do.”
Some local adults are behind them.
“We have to quit looking at skateboarding like it’s a bad thing. It’s play,” business owner Danny Key said. “You know why it’s like that? Because they are forced to do it in places they’re not supposed to. And if we have a place for them to go, then everything works out great.”
“I would rather see kids playing outside instead of on a sofa somewhere playing a video game,” said BCHS teacher Kady Lane. “I think it would bring some kids together.”
Rules and whys
In November, the Brown County Board of School Trustees voted to ban skateboards, rollerskates, scooters and rollerblades from being ridden on all Brown County Schools properties after two “close calls” where administrators almost hit students on skateboards.
Another incident that led to the policy involved a skateboarder who laid down on the board to roll past buses that were dropping off students and was almost hit by a bus, Superintendent Laura Hammack said.
“We are liable for individuals who are on our campus, and therefore when risky decisions are made with these devices, we’re quite concerned for the student’s health and for our liability,” she said.
Skateboarding is a way for some teens to blow off steam after school.
It was also a way some students traveled to school.
In December, two Brown County High School students approached the Nashville Town Council to ask for skateboarding rules to be relaxed in town.
A policy in place since 2002 restricts skateboarding, rollerblading, rollerskating and riding scooters to one Nashville street: Johnson Street from Mound to Franklin streets.
Before that ordinance was passed, skateboarding and rollerblading had been banned entirely from town since 1989.
Nashville Town Council President “Buzz” King said the ban was put into place because of foot traffic and tourists.
“You’ve got people with kids walking the streets, and here comes a skateboard or even a bicyclist down the sidewalk, it just caused a lot of trouble in those days, and it still would, I think,” he said.
King said he hit two skateboarders with his vehicle last year and another skateboarder years before that.
“They just come scooting out in front of you from behind something, and you don’t know they’re there. Now, fortunately, none of mine were hurt,” he said.
Nashville Police Chief Ben Seastrom said his officers have not issued many tickets; they prefer to go with warnings.
However, Seastrom issued one $50 ticket last year when he almost hit a skateboarding teen who didn’t look both ways before crossing an intersection.
BCHS freshmen Andy Slutz and Christian Hayes asked the town council to at least put in travel routes for skateboarders in town.
Hayes uses a longboard, which is different from a smaller skateboard used to do tricks, to travel in town from his home on Artist Drive.
Hayes also asked the council to consider issuing permits that would allow skateboarders to skate in town who pass a safety test.
King said in an interview last week that the possibility of issuing those types of permits was “just a bit below zero.”
“A skateboard — in my opinion, now — shouldn’t really be used for transportation. You should carry it to where you’re going to skateboard at, then skateboard and have a good time.”
King said a skate park being built in Nashville is “a great idea.” But he said the town would most likely not take on the responsibility of creating one because of liability.
“It’s a great idea, though,” King said. “If somebody else were to raise the money and get it done, I’d think it would be a wonderful thing to have.”
Town Attorney Jim Roberts said if the town were to be involved in a skate park, it would be liable if it allowed the park to fall into disrepair and that resulted in injuries. He said it’s possible the town’s insurance would rise because of the risk of injury, too.
“There is always a risk,” he said. “If we had things like rails and jumps … or a half pipe, we certainly would be responsible to keep it in good shape.”
Part of community
Seastrom said not having a place for teens to hang out after school and during the summer has always been an issue, especially since the Victory Family Fun Center closed about 10 years ago.
“When that was up and going, that was great. The kids all hung out there. There weren’t any issues. The owners of the property maintained good order and discipline in there. The kids had a good time,” he said.
Gregg and Lauri Watson opened the center with pool tables, arcade games and miniature golf about a block from the high school in 1999, because “the kids are always screaming, ‘there’s nowhere for us to hang out,’” he told The Democrat that year.
He died suddenly in 2005, and his wife kept it going for a while. But in 2013, the vacant property at Van Buren and West Washington streets was sold to the Nashville Christian Church.
Last fall, a different group of high-schoolers went before the town council saying they had no place to hang out. Business owners on Washington Street had asked them to leave; one told the council he had chased young people off his property every day because of their behavior.
Seastrom said loitering near the area of the Nashville General Store has since been resolved because there’s a new group of kids who want to follow the rules: No littering, no cursing, no damaging property and just “being a good citizen.”
When he was a Brown County High School student, Seastrom remembers catching rides to Bloomington or Columbus since teens there were allowed to congregate until curfew hit. “We didn’t cause any problems. We just needed a place to hang out,” he said.
It’s important that teens feel like they are part of their community, not that they need to leave it, local mentors say.
“I feel like there’s a barrier between adults and the kids in this town, like the shop owners and stuff. They don’t really like us,” Hayes said last week.
“We’re a nuisance to them, at least there are some of us who have proven to be. But not all of us are.”
Christy Thrasher, vice president of the BETA Board of Directors, attended the December town council meeting with Hayes and Andy Slutz.
“They feel really left out of their community, so this is just one issue they’re hoping to address,” she said about skateboarding. “And the bigger picture they’re hoping to address is the fact that kids really feel alienated.”
Thrasher is also the program director for Indiana Naloxone Project, which combats opioid drug use in Brown and other area counties.
She said alienation contributes to drug use “for sure.”
Giving young people “positive outlets for their energy” and “ways to pursue things they are passionate about” are ways to keep them on the right path, she said.
“I think that as the adults in our community, that it’s our responsibility to try to provide that for them and support them when they’re seeking it.
“These kids are actively seeking that, and we should be encouraging that,” she said.
A place to go?
After news of the students approaching town council hit social media, other community members began stepping up.
Key is a co-owner of the Toy Chest and owns Brown County Realty. He also is a new member of the Nashville Redevelopment Commission.
He said he would be willing to help raise money and sponsor the skate park because having more activities for the whole family helps the community as a whole.
“I find a lot of families who want to come here, but we don’t have a public daycare, we don’t have a lot of accessible parks and play spaces, which I know we’re working on, but those things are important,” Key said.
“It’s important to me from a business aspect, but especially important because I’m always going to live here.”
Lane said a skate park also could be a tourist draw.
Key said he recently spoke with the directors of the skate park in Franklin. That park — to which the town of Franklin and its parks department contributed — cost about $100,000, he said.
Lane said she has been researching grants, and the Tony Hawk Foundation offers up to $25,000 for skate park construction. She said she didn’t think it would have to cost $100,000.
They believe Deer Run Park would be an ideal place for a skate park.
“It’s definitely within the realm of possibility,” said Brown County Parks and Recreation Director Mark Shields.
Shields said he’s talked with the parks and rec board in the past about putting in a skate park, or a combination skate park and pump track, which is an obstacle course for bikes.
Parks and rec would not be able to fund a skate park, but Shields said land might be available there.
Accessibility is one problem that would need to be figured out. The only way to get to Deer Run Park from town is on the winding Helmsburg Road, which has no sidewalks or shoulder.
“Our goal is still to one day extend the Salt Creek Trail out to Deer Run, but in the meantime, that would probably be one of our biggest concerns, which would be how would the kids get out here short of just walking along Helmsburg Road?” Shields said.
“I just think where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Key said. “If we can just get some positive movement behind expanding the family-oriented activities here, it would really do us all well.”
On Jan. 20, skateboarding supporters will gather in the Brown County Public Library at 4 p.m. to establish further plans for their movement, freshman Christian Hayes said on Facebook.