They buzzed around Waterford’s new concrete skate park Thursday on bikes, scooters and, yes, even skateboards.
Among them, 12-year-old Ryan Hay practiced his craft on his board, locked in determinedly as he worked on new moves and tricks.
Maybe one or two realized they were in the presence of greatness and owe a debt of gratitude to Hay, who three years ago literally took on City Hall to get the park built for their benefit.
OK, so he didn’t take on City Hall in the traditional way, like a resident upset over water and sewer charges or because the building inspector failed to sign off on electrical work.
Hay approached the bureaucrats with a dream and a plan, and they worked together to make it a reality. And in doing so, he got the kind of civics lesson and understanding of the process most kids won’t be able to explain even after they pass their government classes as high school seniors.
“They said he got us a skate park,” said Luis Vallejo, one of the teens using it on Friday. “Every other town got one – Modesto, Turlock, Ceres, Patterson. All we need now are some lights.”
Until the park opened unofficially last month, the kids skateboarded on streets, sidewalks and anywhere else they could find, often to the displeasure of homeowners and drivers, Hay said. A skate park would give them a designated place, one designed for that specific purpose. So he wrote a letter to City Manager Tim Odgen, spelling out the benefits to the community because it would give teens a place to go and a safer venue for their skateboarding. Ogden liked Hay’s idea and supported it on three conditions.
“I called him back and told him he’d have to be brave and go before our city council and read his letter,” Ogden said. “He said, ‘No way.’ But he did, and he had so much confidence.”
Next stop: the city’s parks and recreation commission. “He had to sell them on the idea,” Odgen said. “And he did.”
The city dedicated space in its Beard Park for the skate park.
The third condition? Odgen estimated the park would cost more than $200,000 and wanted the community to support it. Hay and his mother, Becky, and friend Christina Lowe began organizing and staging fundraising events.
“About two dozen of them,” Odgen said.
By collecting recyclables, putting donation jars in businesses throughout town and other methods, they raised about $3,000. And Ryan Hay approached the Beard Land Improvement Co. – the city park is named in honor of the Beard family – and it gave $5,000. Taco Bell and Waste Management Inc. contributed $2,500 each.
But some grants didn’t come through. It didn’t matter. The pro-skate park crowd impressed city officials with their efforts.
“At that point, I said, ‘Let’s get this done before (this generation of kids) are too old to use it,’” Odgen said.
The city used general fund money to fund the remainder. Hay and his friends had input on the design. “But they changed it,” Ryan said. “We had a bigger hill.”
The most difficult part of the process?
“The waiting,” Ryan said. “It took about two to three years.”
During the few months it took to build the structure before it was completed earlier this year, Ryan only visited the site once.
“I was practicing for the day it opened,” he said.
He was recognized as a Waterford Champion, a relatively new honor given to people who do good things in the community.
They’ll hold a formal dedication for the park March 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and in the meantime are collecting donations of new and gently used helmets to distribute to the teens using the park. Thursday, Ryan and another skateboarder, Matthew Brinkman of Keyes, were the only ones wearing helmets among the two dozen using the park. When city officials visited the park one day last week, only one of 26 kids said he owned a helmet.
But while the adults want to protect the teens, the teens want to protect the park. Already, there are gray paint squares where crews painted over graffiti. The skateboarders, bicyclists and scooter riders want to keep it clean.
“We need lights like over there on the baseball field,” Vallejo said. “It would make it harder for the taggers. You never see ’em. But then you come out and it is there.”
After all, they waited for years to get their skate park and now they have it, in large part because of their small friend.
Yes, Ryan Hay is only 12 going on 13, and he’s finishing up his seventh-grade year at Waterford Middle School. But his legacy in Waterford already is etched in concrete and steel.