The first question Kevin Martin asked Chief Brad Moericke when he was hired at the Sumner Police Department a year ago was, “Hey, where’s your skate park at?”
The 42-year-old Sumner officer was in for a grim surprise.
“I came over here, and I’m telling you my head went down — I was bummed out,” Martin said about the first time he visited the Sumner skate park. “Because for one thing, I only saw like one kid, and he was just kind of going around all the different obstacles because it was just falling apart.”
The skate park, located off Washington Street on the Bill Heath Sports Complex, was in disarray. Pieces of the coping — the concrete ledges of the skate park — were lying on the ground, and was grass growing up between cracks.
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“I’m like, ‘I gotta fix it,’” Martin said. “We gotta get more kids over here.”
Over the past year, that’s what he did.
The Sumner skate park, also known as the “Sk8 Park,” has a long history. It was originally built in 2001 with two bowls, one that went 8 feet deep.
“Smaller kids would get stuck in it,” Sumner Parks Supervisor Dan Gates said. “You could go to the edge, and it would be eight feet before you hit concrete again.”
The bowl was too big of a liability for the city, so it was filled with dirt. A lone bowl remains, ranging in depth from 3 to 5 feet.
The park sometimes would be vandalized and tagged with spray paint.
It also was known as a place where youth hung out, Martin said, and the activity there was closely monitored.
“It’s unfortunate because (skate parks) get a bad reputation,” Martin said.
Martin spent most of his life skateboarding at parks around the world. Growing up in Los Angeles, Martin learned to love skateboarding.
“Throughout my time growing up there, it was the type of environment where you kind of went one of two different ways — you went a way where you were going to go downhill, or you went another way where you were going to do something productive with your life,” Martin said. “I found skateboarding to be that avenue — that outreach has productivity for me. That continued throughout my adult life.”
After high school, Martin joined the military but didn’t stop skateboarding.
“While I was in the military, I traveled all over the place,” Martin said. “I skated just about everywhere, and I realized the same things across the board — doesn’t matter if it was in the United States, overseas, Europe, wherever it’s going to be — it’s a good way to have good community relationships.”
After 20 years of service, he joined Sumner law enforcement as a way to continue connecting with the community. He started by skateboarding at the skate park.
“I realized people (would) say, ‘Hey, there’s a cop out there skating,’” Martin said. “People started showing up, and after about two weeks it went from having about one kid in here to about 20.”
That outreach was paused when damage to the park in June caused the city to close it due to safety concerns. Chucks of concrete had been pried from the edges of the bowl.
Then Martin stepped in.
Bringing the community together
Martin put together a plan for fixing the park and presented it to the Sumner Parks Department.
“I presented … my plan of what this place should look like: Start by fixing it, get all the repairs fixed, get the concrete repaired, get a nice base (paint) on here, and then we’ll paint it with the school colors … to help bring that sense of community back together,” Martin said. “And that’s kind of where we’re at right now.”
On Aug. 18, Martin and 15 other kids and community members gathered to paint the entire skate park. On Friday, they gathered again to paint it purple and yellow, Sumner High School’s colors.
The cost of painting the skate park was about $3,500. It’s set to open this week.
In the next two months, the city plans to start construction of an above-ground skateboarding obstacle course where the old bowl used to be. Additional signage will be added help with security. Security cameras already cover the whole park.
For Martin, having a skate park is an opportunity to connect to local youth and be a positive role model.
“It’s not that I’m trying to get them to give me information or anything like that — it’s nothing like that at all,” Martin said. “I just want to build that sense of community. I want them to know this is a safe place to come to. That this is a place where they can all socialize and hang out.”