By Andre A. Rodriguez • Special to the Smoky Mountain News
It’s been at least a dozen years since Waynesville’s leaders began contemplating a public skate board park to provide a safe alternative to illegal skating on streets and parking lots.
The town bans skateboarding on sidewalks and most town streets. Violaters face a $50 fine and the possibility of having their boards confiscated.
But it doesn’t always stop them, whether it’s risking a stealth nighttime run through the town’s six-story parking deck or staging a mass ride down the middle of Main Street, as was the case in a rare display of public disobedience by young skaters a couple of years ago.
Waynesville Alderman Gary Caldwell, a long-time advocate of a town skate park, sees skaters taking up their sport wherever they can, often in private parking lots.
“The other day I was taking my mom for a stroll at the Brian Center on the outside, and I saw little guys over at Garrett Funeral Home’s extra parking lot skating and jumping up on that rail,” said Caldwell. “We’ve got to make [a skate park] happen soon.”
The town set aside $70,000 toward the park a dozen years ago and are now waiting to hear if they will be awarded a matching $70,000 grant from the state Parks and Recreation Trust Fund and town Parks and Recreation Department, Director Rhett Langston said.
Langston said he hopes he has good news to deliver about the grant soon, but the General Assembly’s delay in approving a budget has also delayed the grant process. The grant was tentatively scheduled to be awarded in July, but the date has been pushed back to at least Aug. 21, Langston said.
“It’s going to be stiff competition, more so than usual,” Langston said, citing the state budget crunch.
Plans for the skate park call for a fenced-in, outdoor facility on the site of the former horse ring on Vance Street. It will join the sprawling town recreation complex along Richland Creek, where playgrounds, tennis courts, picnic shelters, ball fields, a greenway, a dog park, a track, and the Waynesville Recreation Center are clustered.
The park would be free to use, but skaters would be required to pay a small registration fee so the Parks and Recreation Department can keep track of who is using the facility. The town would maintain the facility, Caldwell said, but “I think it’ll be well maintained and taken care of by [the skaters]. I think that they’ll respect it and take very, very good care of it themselves.”
Skateboarders will be required to wear helmets, and knee and elbow pads, unlike at BP Skate Park in Balsam, where many area boarders go to skate, particularly on inclement weather days since BP is an indoor facility.
The topic was an issue of contention during a public opinion meeting held in March 2008. Many experienced skaters said they don’t like skating in full pads because the pads limit motion and can be uncomfortable while skating on hot days.
Langston said there is no wiggle room for the full pads requirement, which is mandated by state law. He said he’s spoken with other municipal skate park operators who have said people still come to skate despite the requirement they be fully padded.
Brick by brick
While Langston awaits word on the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant, he announced that the Waynesville Kiwanis gave a $20,000 grant to the project. The park will be named the Waynesville Kiwanis and Parks and Recreation Skate Park, he said.
As families return from summer vacations and school gets cranking again, the fundraising effort is expected to kick into high gear. Langston said he plans to hold a fundraising meeting in mid-September. In the meantime, the town is selling bricks that will be used for a walkway leading to the park’s entrance. The four-inch by eight inch bricks can contain up to three lines of personalized text with 20 characters per line per brick. The bricks can be purchased for $50 each or two for $75. Langston did not have a total for the brick sale but did say sales were going “very well.”
“That’s been an ongoing event, and so far we‘ve been very pleased with it,” he said. “We’re trying to take that idea and get more aggressive.”
Langston said he hopes to get more young people involved in the fundraising effort since they’re the ones who will benefit from the project. The park is also looking for individual donors and corporate sponsors, who can get their name permanently placed on a dedication sign at the park.