According to Ortega, many of the locals who frequent Swanny Park are concerned with the safety of some of the park’s features. Ortega and members of his family are placing themselves at the vanguard of a renovation effort at the park, with an eye to remodeling efforts. Ortega comes from south central Los Angeles, where many youth get caught up in gang life at a young age, and Ortega was no different. Nine years ago, Ortega moved to Moab to escape the gangs and grime of LA and pursue his passion — skateboarding.
“There are a lot of kids not knowing where to go,” Ortega said. “I’ve seen a bunch of suicides, a bunch of kids going off in different directions … I’ll see them at the park once, then two or three weeks later, they’ll leave their skateboard or bike here and start drinking or doing drugs.”
Ortega — or “Flaco” as many local skaters and bikers know him — has become a role model for many of Moab’s youth through his outreach efforts. Ortega said he noticed that Swanny is the only skate park in Moab, and its deteriorating condition makes it both frustrating and unappealing for more advanced skaters, and discouraging for up-and-comers who are trying to learn.
“[The skate park] is unsafe because there are holes in the ground that kids hit, and they fly out of their scooters and skateboards,” Ortega said. “When a kid wants to learn how to drop in, its hard for them … I see them go face first into the concrete and it’s not right. Then, they get scared, and they’re less motivated to learn.”
Ortega explained how these sub-par conditions prevent kids from even wanting to get back on the board, which leads to many of them turning to drugs or alcohol. This is not unlike the situations in inner cities across America, where a YMCA or a basketball court can serve as an alternative for kids who don’t have the financial means to play more expensive sports, which in many cases can keep them off the streets.
Ortega has been pushing the remodeling and renovation project forward on several fronts, including starting an online petition, meeting with members of the Moab City Council to address covering the repairs, and even reaching out to the Tony Hawk Foundation in efforts to create a safe environment for Moab’s youth.
The foundation was created by Tony Hawk, one of the most revered skateboarders in the history of the sport as a way to give back to the skateboarding community by renovating skate parks across the United States.
According to Moab City Communications Manager Lisa Church, the renovation and expansion effort has, so far, been a citizen-driven effort.
"The city will necessarily be involved in any final decisions about this since the park is on city property," Church said. "And the city council will need to approve any expansion [or] renovation."
An online petition can be found at thepetitionsite.com/982/092/249/remodel-an-expansion-of-swannys-skate-park.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of the story,correcting an earlier version with an incorrect attribution to Lisa Church.