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Locals in Billings are remodeling the Downtown Skate Park



Billings, Montana – In the past two years, Jace Kelly, 16, has visited the Downtown Skate Park almost every time, and his mother has been there too, watching him skateboard from a lawn chair in the grass.

Amanda Kelly, Jace’s mother, is present to observe her son’s ability while also ensuring his safety. While they are at the skate park, her son has also had to intervene to keep his mother safe.

“My 16-year-old son is having to protect me down at the skate park. No other sport do you play that you have to look up in the stands and worry about your mom being safe. But here, he does,” Amanda said.

At the skate park, Jace ran into Michael Wilson and Sullivan Ulrich. The three of them are now close friends and have a lot in common when it comes to their skate park experiences.

“There’s a lot of hard drugs, lots of fights,” Wilson said.

Ulrich talked about his terrifying experience of being alone in his skateboard shop while a shooting occurred across the street from the park.

“My board landed on its side, so it was really loud, but at the same time my board hit the ground, somebody shot the window of the House of Fades Barber Shop,” he said.

Jonathan Ryan Wright, a native of Billings, reported that he had a bad first time at the skate park.

“I was here for less than 15 minutes, and I saw a guy get stabbed,” Wright said.

Every month, Wright provides free meals to anyone in need; the Downtown Skate Park was the location of one of his meal days. Skaters addressed Wright about the problems the park was having at this point.

Wright made the decision that something needed to be done to try to improve the area.

“There’s something that needs to be done here because the kids just aren’t safe,” Wright said. “We’re actually getting ready to try to fence the whole thing in. Get cameras out here and get lights.”

About two months ago, Wright visited Billings Parks and Recreation to obtain permission to renovate the skate park area. The Billings Parks and Recreation Department’s director, Mike Pigg, expressed his excitement at the concept.

“We’ve tried everything we can think of to bring skate park around to make it a safe place, to make it an inviting atmosphere, and we’re at our wits’ end. Our police officers come through a number of times a day. Our staff does all we can,” Pigg said. “It just is not a very hospitable place, and so when they came with their ideas, we were all in. It didn’t take much convincing.”

Pigg stated that although the parks department does not have the funds to make the modifications, they will assist when possible with the installation of the cameras, lighting, and fencing.

Wright is in charge of project fundraising and is coordinating gift collection with the nonprofit Partners for Parks Foundation. Additionally, he mentioned that local companies have already offered to assist with the cameras and fence. If the weather doesn’t interfere, Wright hopes to begin building an iron fence around the park in the coming months.

“We’re trying to get it done as quickly as possible, especially while we’ve got traction,” Wright said.

Jace, Amanda, and his pals are all optimistic that this initiative will contribute to the skate park’s increased safety.

“I’m super excited. You know, I’ve sat down here, I’ve seen a lot and I really hope it’s going to drive out some of the issues that we’re having,” Amanda said.

Wilson commented that it felt good to know that someone was making an effort to improve the place he likes to spend time in.

“People talk about it a lot, but nothing ever gets done. It finally kind of seems like something actually is happening now, which is super cool,” he said.

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