People line the edge of a quarter pipe during Friday’s opening ceremony for the Debra Barto Memorial Skate Park on the Tulalip Reservation.

Dream of a Tulalip skate park becomes reality

TULALIP — There was a heavy downpour Friday, making it a terrible day to get on a skateboard.

Nonetheless, it was a great day for skating on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.

After years of dreaming and planning, the Tulalip Tribes officially opened the Debra Barto Memorial Skate Park, the first dedicated place for skaters on the reservation.

Planning for the park went back at least as far as 2004, but it was only in 2014 that the tribes were able to set aside the money to bring the dream to fruition.

The rain forced the opening ceremony to be held inside the tribe’s gymnasium. The program focused as much on Barto as it did on the park.

Barto, a tribal member and mother of six, was instrumental in the push to create the skate park. She died June 24 of breast cancer at age 49.

Late last year, the tribe’s board of directors approved dedicating the park to her memory.

“Sometimes dreams really do become a reality,” Tulalip chairman Mel Sheldon Jr. said during the presentation.

Barto was known for her kindness and generosity, as well as remaining positive in the face of adversity.

In the last years of her life she became a kind of skater mom for tribal youth, turning over her living room for skate park committee meetings and taking kids to competitions, including the All Nations Skate Jam in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“When you’re out there skating, you get a lot of bumps and bruises, you’re falling down a lot. That’s kind of what my mom’s life was like, lots of ups and downs,” said Shane McLean, one of Barto’s sons. “But she never judged anyone. She just wanted people to be happy.”

Barto’s extended family was present at the commemoration. Each received skateboards decorated with family photos.

Christian Foster, 17, another of Barto’s sons who skates competitively, started skating at the age of six with his mother’s support.

“Mom took me and my brother to California just to skate,” Foster said, recalling a trip to the new Stoner Skate Plaza in Los Angeles with McLean. (That park is named after a nearby cross-street.)

For the presentation, the gym was hung with posters listing qualities Barto represented.

“Kindness, love, compassion, faith, that was Debbie,” said Theresa Sheldon, a board member for the Tulalip Tribes who was a former skater.

“The true leaders are our youth, and any time we can give them a voice and a platform, that’s what we’ll do,” she said.

Herman Williams Sr., who was the tribal chairman in 2014 when the board approved the funding for the park, alluded to past decades, when building a gymnasium and a ballfield were just dreams.

“I walked on this ground when I was 10 years old. I played on that ball field when it was a cow pasture and an orchard,” Williams told the group.

Afterward, Williams said that when he was first elected chairman in 1951 at the age of 21, the elders told him to stand up and speak for youth in the tribe. He maintained that view throughout his life, including when he rejoined the board in 2014 at 85.

“I thought, ‘Here’s a thing we could do for the youth, so let’s push it so there’s a place to where they could entertain themselves,’” Williams said.

After the ceremony, everyone left the gym for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting at the new park. By that time, the rain abated, and several kids got on their boards to make a few runs while the weather held.

Jay Napeahi, the executive director of Tulalip Tribes Housing who oversaw the skate park construction, recalled that when he was growing up, the first skate park in his hometown of Pacifica, California, was half of an abandoned swimming pool he and his brothers found in the woods.

The new Tulalip park, 12,000 square feet of bowls, ramps, half- and quarter-pipes, eventually will be painted in native motifs.

The shapes are stylized representations of a lake, river, waves and an orca tail fin. A totem pole will eventually rise out of a cedar hat, and figures of salmon will be etched into the surface.

It cost the Tulalips $400,000 to build, contracting with Seattle-based Grindline Skateparks Inc.

The finished product is a far cry from that old swimming pool in the woods.

“So to be able to come and build this is kind of a ‘Field of Dreams’ come true,” Napeahi said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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