February 21, 2010

Homemade halfpipe

Fans enjoy snowboarding, but town manager concerned for safety reasons

BY DOUG HARLOW, Staff Writer

FAIRFIELD -- There it is, on a residential street in the downtown area of Fairfield -- a 70-foot-long halfpipe of ice and snow.

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by David Leaming A MAZING: Clinton Peterson walks through a maze of wood supports that hold up one side of a halfpipe skating park he helped build at the home of Rick Clark in Fairifled.

In Rick Clark's backyard.

Resembling a miniature Olympic snowbowl, the 16-foot-high structure is built from 2-by-4s and wooden pallets, then loaded with snow.

The kids love it, saying it's wicked cool; but the town manager rolls his eyes, saying it could be wicked dangerous.

Code Enforcement Officer Cindy Tuttle says Clark's halfpipe and adjoining 40-by-70-foot hockey rink on Flood Avenue are not violating any local codes, so the kids are good to go.

"It's something. It's amazing, really," said hockey grandfather Melvin Nale of Waterville. "The kids that they entertain here on the weekends -- Rick has done a heck of a job."

Nale's grandson Brandon is one of 10 or so area youngsters who join Clark's sons, twin 11-year-olds, Dylan and Dustin Brown, skating and sliding on the huge halfpipe.

"It's fun, you can do tricks on it and we get a lot of people over here and they skate on the rink, too," Dylan said. "We can do whatever we want; we can skate, we can sled, we skate from the top to the bottom and skate down the other high point of it."

Clark, 41, who owns an electronics recycling business, said it all started four years ago with a flat skating trail around his house and garage. He said the ramps and platforms -- and the challenges -- grew as the boys grew, too.

"I think the course was really fun, and some really hard work," Dustin said. "I mean we are one of the only people in the world that have something like this in a backyard.

"I think that (Olympic snowboarder) Shaun White is so crazy doing his 360s and stuff. I also think that Shaun White would go crazy over the course. He would probably get his snowboard and do his tricks on the course and show us how it's done."

Clark said all the pallets and timbers come from area transfer stations and construction sites, along with some he had to purchase as the course expanded over the past couple of years.

Snow is shoveled and snow-blown into the bowl and then hosed down with water to mold it to the skeletal frame of what Clark calls the ice pipe.

"The steepest pitch on it is about 65 degrees; 65, 70 degrees -- it's almost like a free fall for six or seven feet," he said. "It would be dangerous if we didn't have them put their hockey equipment on; they have to have full equipment on -- helmets, pads and all that stuff to go ahead and skate on it -- so I'm really not worried about kids getting injured because the angles actually invite soft falls."

He said Tuttle, the Fairfield code officer, visited the park and a police officer came by to take photographs.

"She was pretty receptive on it," he said of Tuttle. "From her perspective, she wanted to know if I was far enough from the (property) line and I told her I got permission from the neighbor. I told her how the kids had to have full equipment on. She seemed pretty at peace with it."

Tuttle said on Thursday that it appears to be a good structure and there is supervision of the children on site.

Fairfield Town Manager Paul Blanchette said that the site meets town codes, but still wonders how safe the structure is.

"As far as I know, none of his neighbors have complained about it," Blanchette said. "Personally, I would not want it on my property. I think it's dangerous; I think that structure, as a non-experienced person, looks shaky to me."

Clark said his neighbors are OK with having the snow park. His closest neighbor, Arthur "Joe" Reid, whose property abuts the halfpipe, declined to comment on the project.

As for the structure of 2-by-6s and 2-by-8 lengths of board holding up the pallets, Clark said he is not worried about it collapsing.

"It's over-supported, if anything," he said. "I watch it throughout the year and if one spot looks like it is starting to get loaded up with weight, I just add a bracing to it."

Clark said he dismantles the entire structure each spring and rebuilds it again each fall as winter approaches, ever growing and morphing into a bigger, more challenging project.

"It's never really done," his son Dylan said. "It's always something to work on, even if he thinks it's done."

Doug Harlow -- 474-9534


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