Lewiston, ID: Interview with Dan Prasil

Sometimes it takes years to get a good skatepark built in your town, and skaters are usually the ones leading the effort. SPS recently sat down with long time skater and skatepark advocate Dan Prasil. It took Dan and his crew over twelve to build a world class skatepark in their town. Check out how they did it…

How long have you been skating?

I’ve been skateboarding since I was 12 years old, I’m 26 now. My neighbor, Jason Havens, had a backyard ramp. I used to run back and forth on it, but didn’t take it up until he quit and gave me his skateboards. One of the skateboards he gave me was a World Industries Mike Vallely barnyard. I was awful at traditional stick and ball sports, but there was something about skateboarding and snowboarding that clicked. I suddenly wasn’t the worst person on the team anymore.

What’s the history of skateparks and skateboarding in Lewiston?

In the mid 1980’s, the city built its second skatepark in Lewiston. The previous park looked like a 1970’s wavy blob of concrete and was located a few hundred yards from our current skatepark. The downtown park suffered from the all too prevalent issues of bad design, construction and location. It was built in an asphalt parking lot in the center of downtown Lewiston. The park was terrible, but it was next to all the downtown skate spots like the Federal building. You could get warmed up at the skatepark, then go street skating. The park did have lights and I spent a lot time there on weekends and after school. It was better than not having a skatepark and we all had fun. However, the park didn’t do much to help progress kids or keep them interested. Most skaters either moved away when they turned 18 or they quit skating altogether.

How far were skaters traveling to other cities to skate?

We would travel anywhere from 30 to 300 miles to go skate good terrain. Portland, OR was the Mecca, but we also have the University of Idaho and WSU nearby. There is a high concentration of good skate spots, but it’s a half hour away and only skateable on summer weekends when no one is around.

What other public skateparks in Idaho or the NW influenced you?

About 6 or 7 years ago parks started to pop up in communities like Sandpoint and McCall. They were small cities with a fraction of our population, but they had sick parks. If they could do it, then we could too. It was motivating.

As far as a real influence I started looking into the Missoula (Montana) Skatepark Association as a guide. We basically copied what they did, and even held art shows similar to their “On Deck” auction. I don’t really know those guys and they probably have no idea how helpful they were to us. Thanks MSA.

What sparked your interest to start advocating for a park?

We had the same motivating factors as everyone else, no where to skate and no one to build it for you. Eventually the DIY mentality sets in and you build what you need to survive, it doesn’t matter if it’s a backyard mini, a flat bar, a skatepark or in a lot of cases all of the above. Finding Skaters for Public Skatepark was another turning point. Before I started researching the SPS website I had never heard the term “skatepark advocate.” There is no other group that has more information on the skatepark or how to get one. It’s a huge resource what we all have now thanks to them. If you searched the Internet for “Building a Skatepark” 6 or 7 years ago you wouldn’t find any useful information.

When did you start advocating for the park?

I remember Kris Johnson showing up at the park with the December 1999 issue of Thrasher Magazine. Mark Scott of Dreamland was on the cover and it read “Lincoln City America’s Gnarliest Skatepark.” He was all “this is the park we have to build.” When Mark showed up on site this last winter to help work on the park it was like everything came full circle.

The park in Lincoln City, OR was deemed the Gnarliest Park in America in 1999. This park influenced countless skaters to start advocating for design/build skateparks across the country.

 

Who did you guys approach first at the city?

It was Kris Johnson’s idea to start talking to the Parks and Rec. Eventually they set up a trust so that we could save the money from our fundraisers. We also started working with them to make the skatepark a top priority within their “master plan.” In 2008, I was asked to join the Parks and Rec Commission. This gave the skateboard community a seat at the table and allowed me to advocate for a skatepark in a way that few are able to. It makes me appreciate the work that goes into any city project.

After that we went before city council with Parks and Rec. and began to fill them in on our plan for the project. Eventually we asked the city council for money to support the park, but that was after we received some significant contributions and grants. It was hard for them to say, “NO”, to the $164,000 dollars of grant money we accumulated. The city council also approved the land sale of the old skatepark from the Parks and Rec. Department. It was another step to show that we were serious about the project, and that it was going to happen sooner rather than later.

What kind of fundraisers did you guys do?

We did all sorts of things. In the beginning, we did a lot of small events like skate comps, t-shirt sales, car washes, door to door stuff, and lots of other things. Lately we have been trying to do a few large events. We have learned it’s more productive to focus your time and energy on a few large projects, then trying to do car washes every weekend.

What was the first response you received from residents and the city when you suggested the park?

I think the biggest problem was dealing with the stereotypes and hang-ups.  There was and still is the notion that skaters are bad kids when in fact they are not.  They are just like any other group of kids that need a place to go, and something to do to keep them out of trouble. Things have changed a lot in the last ten years to make skateboarding more acceptable.  Part of the reason why so many parks are being built is because of this trend.  We still have people who generalize skateboarders and label them as “bad kids”, but the number is getting smaller every year.

What were the challenges over the years?

The biggest challenge was keeping people motivated. It was at least twelve years of actual fundraising. This does not include the years spent getting the city’s approval.

In 2003, everyone was over it and we stopped fundraising altogether. There was a two year stretch when we didn’t take in any donations at all. When I started telling people that we should try again to build this park even the skaters themselves doubted if we could do it. Most of my friends had moved away, stopped skating or had other responsibilities. Out of the original ten skaters who started the process in 1999, Kris and I are the only ones still involved. I had to rebuild and start the fundraising process over. At this point we only raised $9,000 and it was still there in the city trust not doing anything.

What was the process of choosing a location?

It was originally our Parks and Rec Director’s idea to look for a new location. They had been getting complaints for years about having the old skatepark located in the middle of a business district. You had to cross the downtown area to get from a residential area to the skatepark. This put the merchants at odds with the skaters because we needed the sidewalks just to get to the park and they were concerned about customers being run down by kids on skateboards.

At this time, I was turned on to SPS and I was looking into their published ideas of site selection. We placed the new skatepark in an existing park with other users; it’s accessible; it has good pedestrian and roadway visibility; and there is a lot of other activity going on around it. I think we have followed every SPS guideline for selecting a good site and it has paid off.

What sources did the funding come from?

Our first $10,000 came in the form of grassroots fundraisers. We tried everything imaginable, but most of it was on a small scale. We were only bringing in a few hundred dollars at a time, and we have hosted over 75 separate events. That is why I prefer fewer larger fundraising events now because a lot of time and energy went into that first $10,000.00

Afterwards I was able to convince my dad this was a worthwhile project and that our family business should support it. He came back with a $10,000.00 pledge from the Idaho Beverages Company; we are an independent Pepsi-Cola Bottler. One of only 80 franchises left in the country. Also I was able to get some money from the Pepsi Refresh and Mountain Dew to support the park. Our family business ended up donating around $43,000; we are the largest private donor to the project.

Our biggest funding source came from the Idaho Department of Park and Rec. Our new Parks and Rec. Director wrote a grant application and we flew down to Boise to meet with the grant selection committee. I think we lucked out because most people were not asking for much. We asked for the full amount of $245,000 and we came in 4th place with the money running out on us. We ended up getting around $164,000.

Furthermore, the City of Lewiston pledged $30,000 in tax money and we sold the old skatepark to a neighboring business for $80,000. We also received a donation from a local for $25,000 on the condition we build the pool and finish the park in one phase and not two. On top of that, we continued to do more grassroots fundraisers including the sale of granite bricks to be displayed at the future park. Plus a local event called Rockin on the River was also a big help. The event is a one day concert that donates all their proceeds to a charity. All we had to do was show up the last couple of years and help set up the stage.

Last but not least, the Tony Hawk Foundation gave us $10,000.00. After we received that money all we heard from little kids was that it was a Tony Hawk park and that he was coming to the opening. We even had parents accusing use of false advertising when he didn’t show up to the Grand Opening. It was ridiculous, but that grant comes with a lot of publicity and respect.

Was it a public bid process?

We put the whole project out for bid as a skatepark design/build proposal. This was good because all of the ten proposals had some skatepark construction experience. We didn’t have anyone bid on the skatepark that lacked experience with this sort of project.

How was the skatepark builder chosen?

After we reviewed all of the proposals we invited the top three contractors to give us presentations. Grindline had by far the most experience building the type of park we wanted. They were also a regional/local business and showed how a significant portion of the construction money would go to benefit local suppliers and businesses.

How did the build process go?

I was a little worried about the construction process heading into winter. We had been trying to start construction in August, but we were held up due to red tape. On Oct 1st an official ground breaking took place and they started about a month later. The Parks and Rec. crew did a lot of dirt work for the park and they did a really good job. This helped free up Grindline to concentrate on concrete. Both crews (Parks and Rec. and Grindline) had to work through some adverse conditions. We had a few weeks of snow and really cold weather, but they were able to pull it off.

The park under construction.

 

Explain the dimensions of the park?

The park is somewhat amoeba shaped and about 12,000 sq ft. There are 2 bowls and a large street/flow section. The deepest section in the main bowl is a little over 8 feet. We were limited on how deep we could go because of drainage.

The conceptual design.

 

What did you guys do for the grand opening?

We had the Mountain Dew Amateur Skate Team show up. Plus the Bacon and Lifeblood teams sent up Benji Galloway, Brenden Garcia, Cody Lockwood and a few others. Watching them rip up the park was one of my most memorable moments. We also had food vendors, live music, prizes and giveaways donated by Pepsi. Most importantly, we held a skate/bmx contest and the winners each won VIP passes to the Portland Dew Tour.

The first competition in the new park.

 

How did the public and skaters receive the park?

I hear the comment, “I didn’t know so many skaters lived in this town”, all the time. People who weren’t involved in the process had no idea the amount of people that would actually use the facility. We were averaging 70 people at a time in the park the first few months of summer. The one thing I hear from skaters is that there is not enough street and I can see that. On the other hand, there isn’t another bowl for 90 miles, so this is the first chance kids have ever had to ride transitions on an everyday basis. The younger kids are adapting fast.

Dan Prasil testing out the pool coping.

 

Are skaters traveling to the park from other towns?

We have had people from all over the Northwest, you can go down to the park every weekend and meet people who have traveled a hundred miles or more. We even had Dan Hughes come visit from Utah; it’s always been a secret dream of mine to have a legit skatepark on www.northwestskater.com. I was bummed when I heard he was going to be here while I was out of town.

Have you guys used the park for any events?

We have made a lot of conscious efforts to manage the park well. We had Skate Like a Girl come visit and do an impromptu demo. As well as a kids skate camp in the summer. We are trying to have a big focus on making the park community oriented and get as many people into skateboarding as possible.

What are your future plans?

Our main priority is to finish fundraising for the Skatepark. We have about $35,000 left to raise until we’re finished, not bad considering that we received most of the $400,000 within the last 18 months.

We also are starting to look into helping with smaller skate facilities in Asotin, WA (a few miles from Lewiston with a population of 2000 and my hometown) as well as Lapwai, ID on the Nez Perce Indian reservation. I would like to see a small network of skateparks within the Lewiston/Clarkston Valley and Lapwai area. It would be nice if we could follow the MSA and become a state wide origination, but we still have a lot of work to do internally before that can happen.

We also want to continue to be active at our current skatepark in the form of hosting events like SLAG and the kids skate camp. The more we do down at the park the better chance we have to positively affect the lives of the kids who use it.

Lewiston locs. Most of the original crew who helped get the park built.

Click here to learn more about the Valley Skatepark Association and see what future events and activities they have planned.