Dan Foust is an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Jefferson School who has taken to heart civic lessons.
He learned that participation is what makes democracy work — if he speaks, he will be heard.
Wednesday morning young Foust got the attention of Mayor Bill Shirley and City Administrator Carl Slaugh after he wrote Shirley a letter.
“I am requesting a better skate park,” Dan wrote to the mayor a few days ago. “The one we have now is too small and people are painting on the ramps. The skate park also needs more security, because people are taking bikes in there when they’re not supposed to.”
Dan also gave some ideas on how to raise money, if city coffers couldn’t stand paying for improvements.
“Some ways we could raise the money to pay for it is we could put a donation box there, or we could have a fair to raise money,” he concluded.
Shirley picked up Dan at his school late Wednesday morning and they met Slaugh at the park.
An aside that surprised and pleased Shirley was that what Dan seeks isn’t for himself.
He occasionally rides on skateboards on straight-aways, such as a sidewalk or parking lot, and “I’m pretty good at that,” but doesn’t feel he has to the skill to negotiate the ramps and structures in the park.
“I just ride my bike there and stay outside and watch,” he said. But, “A lot of others like the skate park and so do I. I was wondering about allowing bikes in the park.”
“I don’t think we could do that,” Shirley said, because of liability concerns.
Dan and Slaugh walked through the park, with the youngster noting more rails would be good for “grinding,” which brought curious looks from his elders. He explained that grinding is when a skateboard is turned sideways and then slides down a metal railing, such as those in the park.
Pressed for recommendations, Dan said he thought more structures and expansion of the park would add appeal for Iola kids. He had some sketches of what he thought might make the park better, which he handed over to Slaugh.
The two city officials made no promises, but were impressed with Dan’s initiative and promised to follow up.
As for revenue, Shirley confided that some might be available.
After the Flood of 2007, Iola received $40,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to rebuild the park. With city crews doing the work the bill wasn’t that high, Shirley recalled, although he didn’t have an exact figure.
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