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In Florence, there's no more need to wait; it's time to skate.

Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

FLORENCE - Cody Akers on Saturday stood on top of Florence's newest object of community pride, but he viewed it as only a 12-year-old could: a skateboarder's dream.

Akers and scores of young people, parents and community leaders flocked to Miller Park to celebrate the opening of the world-class Florence Skate Park, an elaborate concrete structure shaped in gravity-defying curved steep walls and flat-topped slabs.

Kids and adults alike said Florence's first skate park will give youth a place to socialize and exercise. Until now, skateboarders had to ride on streets or sidewalks, hardly considered cool.

"I've been waiting for it for a long time," said Akers, clutching a well-worn skateboard. "It's a place for kids to not get into trouble."

His friend, Jonathon Lawson, added: "It's a place where kids can be kids."

The skate park was inspired by the longtime advocacy of Florence resident Geth Noble, co-owner of the skate park's designer and contractor, Airspeed Skateparks L.L.C.

In a short speech to the grand opening crowd, Noble's collaborator and partner, Stephanie Mohler, said: "For me, it's been four years and a dream. For Geth, it's been 15 years and a dream. And it's done!"

Dressed in black shorts, long-sleeve T-shirt and green helmet, Noble deftly rode his skateboard all over his concrete creation while other boarders looked on approvingly.

Noble, 39, has been skateboarding since he was 11. He said some of the park's steep walls curve inward at the top, giving skateboarders a "beyond vertical" challenge.

"It's not that difficult," Noble said of the park. "But it has some serious mental challenges to it."

He said he is most proud of the section of the park that he calls "Thunderdome," two deep, bowl-like enclosures connected by a 7-foot-diameter tunnel.

Florence merchant Brian Cole recalled that Noble and other skateboarders once irritated shopkeepers in Old Town by jumping their boards over sidewalks and curbs in front of businesses.

"I remember Geth raising hell on Bay Street about 15 years ago," he said.

Eventually, the City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting skateboarding in Old Town, said Ken Lanfear, who recently retired as Florence Public Works director.

About 15 years ago, the Jaycees proposed a skate park project, but the effort died. About three years ago, however, community volunteers embraced Noble's idea and put together a vigorous fund-raising campaign.

With the help of such residents as Juanita Kirkham, Becky Ruede, Bob Severy, Linda Aurich, Doug Barrett, Robin Andrews and Cole, the town raised $86,000 in cash and in-kind donations, including $25,000 from the city of Florence. Those funds were added to a $125,000 federal grant and a $37,500 donation from the Ford Family Foundation to reach $248,500.

The money purchased what Noble and other skateboard aficionados believe is a world-class skate park and one of the best of Oregon's 96 skate parks.

Florence's grand opening, held under a clear, calm and warm coastal sky, drew skateboarders from as far away as Yachats, Reedsport, Coos Bay and Grants Pass.

Bobby Gumm, a skateboard shop owner from Roseburg, attended with two employees who are training to become professional skateboarders.

Gumm said Oregon's skate parks are becoming a Mecca for skateboarders from other states and all over the world.

The parks help the state's tourism industry, Gumm said, but Oregon youth are the ones who gain the most because skateboarding gives kids something to do instead of getting bored and drinking and taking drugs. The parks "keep them busy," he said. "It keeps them off the bad stuff."
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Title Annotation:Recreation; A celebration in Miller Park opens the much-anticipated Florence Skate Park
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 3, 2004
Words:596
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