Slightly over a month after the official opening of the Nelson Skatepark, vandals have spray-painted crude tags and Nazi symbols on the ramps, the bowl, and the surrounding rocks and signs.
“I was disappointed,” said skatepark ambassador Matt LeBlanc, who estimates the first bout of vandalism occurred approximately a week ago. “The park looks beautiful as it is and we were hoping to keep it that way.”
Leblanc said the removal process is going to be costly, lengthy and inconvenient.
“I knew right away the removal factor would be tricky. We don’t have much funding and it would come out of the youth centre, so a lot of that work now has to happen through volunteering and it’s been a huge hassle already.”
Rows of prominent orange tags have been scrubbed into an indecipherable cloud where staff are using a toxic cleaning agent to leach the paint from the concrete. The progress so far is minimal. On either side of the newly cleaned area there are fresh tags.
“I’ve already put in like eight hours and haven’t really made a dent,” said LeBlanc. “One of the reasons is they’ve used quality spray paint. Once it goes on, it’s pretty much meant to stay. It’s not a fun process, and the sun doesn’t help. It pretty much evaporates the chemical as soon as we put it on.”
LeBlanc also has to take timing and park usage into consideration.
“I’m not going to pull out a hose and start hosing down chemicals while there’s a bunch of kids in the park,” he said.
If things get too bad, he said the park may need to be closed down temporarily to bring in a cleaning crew. But he’s hoping that won’t have to happen, mostly because he trusts the skateboarding community to begin self-policing their peers.
“The youth were concerned right away. They told us they didn’t like how it looked and basically said if they could find out who did it, they would verbalize to them they don’t want to see spray paint in this park. We’ve put a lot of money into the colour scheme and it’s an art piece on its own,” he said.
LeBlanc said they’ve been getting favourable feedback from people who use the park and love the red and grey backdrop.
“Throwing a weird squiggle in the background of a photo is definitely an eyesore,” he said.
Most of the poorly executed graffiti is unintelligible and clearly accomplished without adequate light, but some of it is alarming. LeBlanc discovered the SS symbol – the logo that represented the major paramilitary organization under the Nazi Party —beside a trio of pentagrams on one of the main ramps.
Nathan Malenfant, 8, said he was put off by the graffiti the moment he saw it, because it distracts him while skateboarding. Thankfully he wasn’t familiar with the nazi symbols at his feet, but he called the graffiti “bad, really bad”.
“I want them to take it off somehow,” he said. “It was really nice before.”
Local mother Jennifer St Denis expressed concern about the ages of the children who will now be faced with fascist and satanic symbols.
“I’m just like really? Why? These kids are 5, 7, 9 years old. Not such a great thing for our kids at all,” she said. “I suppose I don’t understand the whole tagging concept. We have such a beautiful skatepark, why would you want to do that?”
But it isn’t just the content of the graffiti that’s offensive. According to St Denis and LeBlanc, the paint poses a number of hazards.
“I’m an old skateboarder from way back,” said St Denis. “I’ve heard people say it’s hard in the bowl to have that (tag) there. It’s distracting and slipperier.”
LeBlanc said the paint can cause a variety of problems, particularly once flakes start to peel and break away into dust. He said layering can cause the surface to become unrideable.
LeBlanc said he would welcome the guilty parties coming forward.
“The way I figure, some kids made a bad call. Potentially late at night. Who knows what sort of state they were in? They’e probably feeling bad by now. We’re hoping that they didn’t realize in the moment what a negative impact it would have, but now they’re getting it. I’m definitely approachable. I’m not going to take a negative approach to anyone coming forward,” he said.
“People make mistakes.”