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KINGSBURG – It’s been a decade since a group of kids first started petitioning to get a skateboarding facility built in Kingsburg. On Nov. 14, not only was that skate park officially opened, but also a large playground and adult fitness equipment at Athwal Park.

Kingsburg Mayor Michelle Roman said the day was an emotional one since it’s taken years of a combined effort by community members, civic groups, the City and local health care district to make it happen.

“It finally took the right combination of a lot of things. The City Council and the Community Services Commission have worked really hard and we got the right funding. It took a lot of people working really hard with us,” she said.

This first phase of improvements added up to $727,732.20. Fresno’s Steve Dovali Construction were the contractors and American Ramp Company installed the skate park equipment.

“The part that’s really cool about that is, that was designed by over 50 local kids,” Roman said of the skate park. “We asked them to come forward and help design that, so it’s actually designed by local skaters.”

Funds for the new amenities came from the Tri-County Health Care District, the Kingsburg Lions Club, the City’s general fund and a grant from the state park’s department.

Skateboarders came from as far away as Fresno for the ribbon cutting and shared with the mayor that the park is “totally rideable. We’ve got kids here from Fresno and Selma and I’ve talked with kids from Parlier. They said this is a really big regional thing. They’re excited about it.”

Roman said she’s also seen children using the fitness equipment to challenge themselves and each other.

“One kid said, ‘I think I can do three crunches, how many can you do?’ The other kid said, ‘I think I can do four.’ It became a challenge, but in a positive, fun way. I thought, if they do that every single day, imagine what they’ll be able to do by the end of the school year? They just saw it as something to do for fun.”

Later, while soccer practice was taking place there, parents were working out instead of just sitting on the sidelines, she said.

“What a great workout for the family, whether they skate or play on the jungle gym. That was the idea from the beginning. It’s just been emotional for me watching it get used the correct way and watching the kids use it and making it a game and making it fun.”

Swedish Festival Queen Jasmine Gallardo unveiled a bronze plaque commemorating the park’s official dedication that day. Tri-County’s Vice Chairman Lejf Knutson added that the health care district was glad to partner and make the improvements a reality “to create new opportunities and improve the City of Kingsburg.”

Joy Bratton said her son, Austin Bratton, was in fifth grade when a group of young skaters in town started the drive for the skate park.

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“Some of his friends who were part of the initial drive have come out to skate. They used to stand out in front of Save Mart with petitions. This is just amazing. We originally wanted just the skate park, but to have all these pieces, it’s beautiful. Everyone can come out and enjoy this. I love it!

Skateboarder Elijah Viramontes said previously he and other skateboarders didn’t have a dedicated place where they could skate hassle-free. Now that the park is open, they wasted no time in testing out the equipment.

“We’re super grateful. It’s really good and mellow and easy to skate,” he said.

Since the City got input from the skaters, equipment was ordered to meet the needs of the beginners to more advanced skateboarders.

“It’s really clean compared to other skateparks,” he said. Their goal now is to keep it that way, he said. “Just strap on some pads and a helmet,” he said encouraging those new to the sport to give it a try.

Everett Soderlund, 7, was among the youngest of children at the skate park that day. He’s still mastering the scooter he’s had since he was three years old. His parents, Ruth and Joshua Soderlund, watched with their younger children nearby.

“I feel like it opens up more opportunities just to have something to do,” Ruth Soderlund said. “[Everett] can see what other people are doing and see things he can work on. That gives him some goals. There’s also a sense of community here.”

Everett said he feels like he’s flying as he rides around on his scooter. He’s already learning from the more experienced skateboarders as they shared tips that afternoon.

“I like it because I can do a bunch of tricks. I can hang onto my scooter and jump. The guys said you have to throw your body weight up, so I was trying to do that.”

Skateboard is likely new to most local youth, so Everett has some words of advice for newbies.

“Try as best as you can, and you might get it. I couldn’t even go like this on my scooter, but I’m getting better.”

Roman said since the skateboard facility is off limits to bicycles, a goal for the Community Services Commission and City Council would now be to look in to building a facility to meet their needs.

“A lot of kids want to ride bikes in here but they can’t, so the next thing we need to do is find where we can find some money and clean dirt to build a dirt bike track for them in another location where they can do some jumps on a BMX track. We have a lot of kids riding bikes and we want to encourage that.”

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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