BRADENTON -- According to Jeremy Rydell, those responsible for the vandalism at the Manatee Veterans Monument Park are "punks."
"I'm really mad because my grandpa's a veteran," said the 18-year-old, who has been riding a BMX bike since he was 13 and uses the skate park across the street from the monument.
With the news granite benches at the veterans' park have been damaged, many in the community quickly blamed skateboarders and Rydell said he would agree with them.
"Before we had this park all they had was to grind stuff like that," he said, referring to a maneuver where the skateboarder rides his board across the edge of a bench, curb or step.
"That gives us all a bad name," Rydell said.
Since the city built the Riverwalk skate park it has become a popular place for skateboarders, inline skaters, BMX bikers and scooter riders.
Rydell was hanging out Thursday afternoon with his friends at the skate park under the DeSoto Bridge, practicing on his bike and trying new tricks.
"This is the best thing to happen to Manatee County since I was born," he said.
His friends agreed.
"That's (the vandalism) where we get a bad reputation," said Justin James, 27,
who comes to the park to practice inline skating. "But with the park they don't have to do that anymore."
James, who recently returned home after serving in the U.S. Army for three years in Kandahar, Afghanistan, said the vandalism was disrespectful to his fellow veterans.
So did Zack Hillabrand, who comes to the park to be with his buddies.
"I think it's wrong," Hillabrand said. "That's a place for veterans. They deserve respect."
He said the vandalism was probably "kids acting on a dare."
"As they get older they have more respect," the 19-year-old said.
Marcus McCray, 33, who has been BMX riding since he was 11, said vandalism upsets the community and may trigger more skate park restrictions.
"We need something like this park," McCray said. "It's something you can do to really release stress and clear your mind."
Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston said city officials do not have any second thoughts about building the skate park.
"It's been an absolute hit," Poston said. "All the skaters are taking care of it and of each other."
It is hard for some people to understand how it has helped the community, he added. "The skateboarders now have a place to go," Poston said.
The Bradenton Police Department will increase patrols there, said spokesman Capt. Warren Merriman.
"We are tightening our patrol presence to prevent any future damage" to the veterans monuments, Merriman said.
Don Courtney, chairmanof the Manatee CountyVeterans Council, whichbuilt the veterans park with donations, said he has yet to get damage repair estimates.
How the council will pay for the repairs will be discussed at the May 16 meeting, Courtney said.
"It's just a shame whoever would do something like that on their way somewhere else," he said. "All they had to do is walk across the street."