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RideMKE at the 105-year Milwaukee County Parks Celebration at McKinley Park this past weekend.

RideMKE rolls out plans for local skateparks

Last summer, Nathan Wellman was looking for a new place to skateboard, so he checked out the skatepark at Estabrook Park.

"When I got there, I found the park in deplorable condition with very questionable construction methods used for the ramps," says Wellman.

Wellman, who has a degree in construction engineering and many years experience in the construction industry, decided to lend his expertise to help make it a better place to skate.

So he sent an email to the county asking permission to organize an effort to make improvements. He did not request money, simply a dumpster for the initial cleanup. This past spring, after hearing that the county was supportive of the idea, Wellman told seasoned skateboarders Nick Bankhead and Jesse Smith, whom he was skating with about once a week at the time, about his plan.

"When I mentioned the idea to them they were more than willing to get involved and start this movement. Once I had a few people on board we began to organize and reach out to others in the community," says Wellman.

The group established RideMKE, a non-profit organization committed to establishing sustainable concrete parks in Milwaukee.

"All of our efforts go directly to constructing free public skateparks within the Milwaukee community. Our plan is to organize a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) effort and build new structures as the money becomes available. We are always looking for more community involvement, so if you are looking to donate some of your time to help out please contact us," he says.

Their first focus is on improving the Estabrook Park skatepark, but Wellman stresses that it's just their starting point. They hope to develop multiple skate spots throughout the community, including Humboldt Park in Bay View and Washington Park.

So far, the group has received donations and sold T-shirts (available at all local skateshops) to raise funds. They plan to have benefit concerts in the future. "Like" RideMKE's Facebook page to find out details of upcoming events when they are announced.

Wellman got his first skateboard in 1988 for his birthday and learned to skate in his parents' driveway in Frankenmuth, Mich. At that time there were almost no skateparks in Michigan, so it wasn't until the mid-90s that he got to go to a real skatepark.

Today, Wellman has a collection of skateboards including old-school boards, longboards and traditional popsicle-shaped boards.

"For riding skateparks I typically ride an 8 1/2-inch wide popsicle-shaped board," he says.

According to Wellman, Milwaukee is one of the largest cities with the fewest free public skateparks. His group's mission is to correct that by creating spaces where the skateboard / BMX community can go to ride and, eventually, they would like to develop a DIY park that would be on the same level as other world-class DIY parks.

"We hope that our effort will urge the county / city to pitch in and create more skateparks in the community," he says. "I enjoy hanging with my friends, laughing, popping a few cold ones and appreciating the simple chaos skateboarding allows me to revel in."

Unfortunately, skateboarders are often a misunderstood group. Wellman says there are a lot of stereotypes about skateboarders, but perceptions are starting to turn around.

"We have a long ways to go," he says. "Skateboarders are some of the smartest, most creative people I know."

Wellman says the local shops have been very supportive of his efforts, including SkyHigh, Phase II, Bigfoot Bike / Skate and MODA3.

"They have all been 100 percent behind our efforts from day one," he says.

In general, Milwaukee has a strong skater community that spans generations.

"There is a very rich history of skateboarding in Milwaukee and it is time for a revival to bring Milwaukee to the forefront of the skateboarding scene once again," says Wellman.


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