A skatepark is coming to Canton, possibly by early winter.
“So, the skateboarders have a place to go,” said Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss.
Canton Alderman Ralph Hamlett recently attended a neighborhood meeting where the talk turned to skateboarding, and more specifically skateboarding on streets and sidewalks.
Austin Fore calls it “a blessing.”
“If I’m not there every other day I’m bummed,” the Clyde skateboarder said.
The Waynesville skate park became an instant rock star after its debut last fall, gaining repute as a wildly popular concrete playground for all things on wheels gliding, sliding and flying over the ramps and rails all hours of the day.
Waynesville Alderman Gary Caldwell was the man of the hour, or perhaps the man of the decade, during the official ribbon cutting of the Waynesville Skate Park last Friday.
Skateboarders from across Western North Carolina have streamed into Waynesville during the past week to try out the town’s newly opened $400,000 skate park.
Construction on an 8,000-square-foot Waynesville skate park is visibly progressing.
After years of stops and starts, construction is now imminent on a long-awaited skateboard park in Waynesville.
Waynesville leaders have committed to foot the bill for the long-held dream of a skateboard park — and it will receive help from an unexpected place.
After years of pinning their hopes on grants and private fundraising that only partially materialized, town leaders have now decided they must move forward with the construction of a public skate park or kill the idea all together. The town board discussed what to do about the skate park at a daylong annual planning session last week. And, fortunately for local skateboarders, the town has said it will fund the project no matter what.
“I sort of like the idea of being able to hang our hat on (the skate park investment),” said Alderman Wells Greeley. “We are going to have parents who will bring their kids over to Waynesville for the day. This falls in the category of what I call good growth.”
Alderman Gary Caldwell has been advocating for a skateboard park for 15 years and was the most vocal board member when discussing the skate park last week.
“I know I am asking a lot,” Caldwell said. But, Caldwell said he wouldn’t stop lobbying for it.
“It’s not a dying issue,” he said.
Plans for the park continually stalled during the past decade as the town struggled to find financing for the project.
“I think it’s something that has been wavering too long,” said Alderwoman Julia Freeman.
Freeman said the town should support projects that benefit kids and get them active.
That’s exactly what the town did in 2010, when it put up $30,000 to hire a consultant to design a skate park in collaboration with ideas from local skateboarders.
The price tag to build a skate park was pegged at $325,000. The town has amassed almost $137,000 toward the cost: a $60,000 grant from the N.C. Parks and Rec Trust Fund, a $20,000 grant from the Waynesville Kiwanis Club and another $40,000 committed by the town itself.
With blueprints for a skate park in hand, the town hoped it would kick-start fundraising, but only $5,000 in private donations has been raised in the past year.
That leaves the town $190,000 short to fund the project.
If the town continues to postpone the project, the cost will inevitably increase with inflation.
“The longer the delay, the higher the price — for the same thing,” said Alderman LeRoy Robinson.
A facilitator from the Southwestern Commission who was running the town’s planning meeting tossed out the idea of scaling back the project and thereby reducing the cost. But, town board members did not seem receptive to that idea.
“If you scale it back, you are going to reduce the challenge, and that is part of the draw of something like this,” Robinson said. “If they don’t feel it is a challenge, they will be back on the street.”
Skateboarding on town sidewalks and most streets is illegal, and violators could be fined $50 or, even worse, have their board taken away. But, that doesn’t mean kids aren’t doing so when no one is watching.
“That has been a major issue,” Caldwell said. “It’s a nuisance.”
The park will give those kids a free place within walking distance of downtown to skateboard legally.
The design for the skate park, developed by Spohn Ranch Skateparks from California, includes bleachers for spectators, at least four ramps and a raised platform with rails, among other features.
“To be honest with you, I’ve been trying to do this forever and ever, but I never envisioned it to look like this. This is amazing,” Caldwell said.
Although the town is building the skate park, it will not staff it, limiting its liability in the event of an accident. Once the park is complete, the town could host competitions there, which would draw visitors and their checkbooks.
As the Waynesville town board grappled with where it would find $190,000 to fund the remaining balance of a skateboard park, it realized somewhat accidentally it was staring a new source of revenue in the face.
At the same meeting where the skate park was discussed last week, the town also took up the issue of whether to start charging fees for controversial sweepstakes machines as several other towns in the region do.
The board agreed in an epiphany moment that recreation would be an appropriate use the new income.
It would likely not be enough to fund all that is needed, however. Maggie Valley and Canton currently tax the sweepstakes machines in their respective towns. Maggie collects $8,250 a year, while Canton rakes in nearly $32,000 each year.
Patterson is a skateboarder, and for the past year he’s spent nearly every afternoon at the Disciples Youth Center skate park on U.S. 441 in Jackson County.
Now the center’s creator, Jeff Kelly, said he’s been forced to close its doors because he can’t continue to pay the rent out of pocket.
Kelly started the center as a non-denominational youth ministry to offer an alternative environment for kids who didn’t participate in team sports.
“We knew how much time we had,” Kelly said. “We did it because we saw the need was there, and in the bigger picture, maybe the county would see it was a good thing for the community.”
Kelly, Ronnie’s father Jack and Doug Nickel attended a Jackson County board meeting this week to urge the commissioners to appropriate funds for a county skate park.
Nickel, who spent 20 years in law enforcement, currently runs a skate ministry in Franklin called The Walk. He told the commissioners how the image of skateboarders as law-breakers and punks is a stigma that adults need to leave behind.
“A lot of these kids have completely turned their lives around,” Nickel said. “I am not a bleeding heart, but I am a reformed skater hater.”
Kelly hopes the county will act on his suggestion quickly. He has offered to donate the ramps from his skate center and organize the volunteer effort to staff the park, as long as the county can provide a space and the necessary insurance.
“We’re willing to do whatever it takes so it doesn’t really cost the county anything,” Kelly said. “We’d love to do something quick, because we’ve got the ramps.”
Kelly said he had spoken to county parks and recreation staff about the possibility of building a skate park at Mark Watson Park immediately while plans for a larger park with a permanent home are in the works.
County Commissioner Chairman Brian McMahan responded positively to the group’s pleas, recounting a story of visiting an impressive municipal skate park in Syracuse, N.Y.
“I think it’s a great idea, and I look forward to working with our recreation department to get this on the county’s master plan,” McMahan said.
The positive reaction was music to Ronnie Patterson’s ears. The Scott’s Creek Elementary School student summoned his courage to address the county commissioners on his own terms, telling them a story about losing a friendship before the skate park helped him find his way to positivity.
“This park has been a good community for everyone that’s gone to it, and everyone there would hate to see it go away,” Ronnie said.
His father, who has six other children, seconded the emotion.
“Having a place for these kids to go in Jackson County would be a big benefit for a lot of young people,” Jack said.
The Town of Waynesville has been working toward an outdoor skate park for more than a decade. The skate park is currently in the design stage, but the road to get there has been long and costly.
So far, the town has spent $28,500 simply to create a plan. The cost of building the park on land the town already owns will fall between $275,000 and $325,000.
Meanwhile the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has plans to replace its existing skate park in Yellowhill with a state-of-the-art facility on a 3.5-acre tract just up the road.
Tribal Council approved up to $600,000 in funding for the project, which is now in the design phase and could be completed by early next year.
Ten-year-old Waynesville resident Zeb Powell has exclusive, 24-7 access to a skate park in town — it’s in his driveway.
Powell got hold of a half-pipe, rails and multiple ramps when the indoor BP Skate Park closed down last fall. But as it turns out, having a park to yourself isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
“He loves doing it with other people,” said his mother, Val Powell. “By himself, it’s just not as much fun.”
Zeb is one of many skateboarders in Waynesville waiting for the long-promised public skate park on Vance Street, near the Waynesville Recreation Center.
For now, skaters still have to deal with a town ban on skateboards on sidewalks and most town streets. Violators face a $50 fine and the possibility of having their boards confiscated.
The proposed fenced-in outdoor park will cost somewhere between $275,000 to $325,000 to construct. So far, the town has lined up $120,000 to devote to the project.
Included in that total is a $60,000 state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant Waynesville recently received, plus a $20,000 grant from the Waynesville Kiwanis Club. The rest comes from town funds.
With the idea of a skate park stalled for more than a decade, the state grant eluded the town when it first applied in 2009. To boost its chances of winning the coveted grant in the next cycle, the town dipped into its own coffers to fund a design plan for the park — hoping to prove it was dedicated to the idea. The plan worked.
Waynesville hired California firm Spohn Ranch Skateparks to lead the project earlier this year. In March, the firm held a public input meeting with local skaters to help shape the look of the park. The firm will present three potential designs at an online meeting next week.
Recreation Director Rhett Langston says he sees a parallel between skate parks and golf courses. Each should have its own unique character and offer different elements from those facilities nearby. With skate parks relatively close in Asheville and Hendersonville, Waynesville’s recreation department wants to offer something else with its park.
“We want ours to be as nice but also different,” Langston said. “So all skaters can go from one location to another.”
Right now, Waynesville parent Joe Moore said he’ll be thrilled to see any kind of skate park.
“I wish there was more money to make it happen immediately,” Moore said. “The wheels of bureaucracy always move too slow.”
Moore wholly supports the project, though, and is happy the park will have no entry fee. He says he’s not worried about the park being unsupervised by town staff.
“Most parents are not going to drop off their 7- to 12-year-old to skateboard and run errands,” said Moore.
Though Moore originally preferred an indoor park, he would now love to see an outdoor facility with a roof overhead to protect skaters like his son Dylan from wet and snowy weather. He also suggests wooden ramps rather than those made of concrete.
“Skateboarders like to see things change,” said Moore. “Concrete, once it’s poured, it’s always going to stay the same.”
Most skaters who attended the first public meeting supported a hybrid of a bowl and a street park with ramps, rails, stairs and more, Langston said.
Langston, who has been instrumental in moving the skate park forward, was himself a skater in his youth. But that was before the rise of skate parks nationwide.
“We would just fly down the hill in our neighborhood,” said Langston. “We just made do with what we had.”
The Waynesville Recreation Department is selling bricks with personalized messages for a walkway leading up to the park. So far, skaters have raised about $3,000.