A bright idea: Skaters say park needs lighting
Austin Fore calls it “a blessing.”
“If I’m not there every other day I’m bummed,” the Clyde skateboarder said.
Fore is quick to sing the praises of the Waynesville Skate Park. The nearly half-million dollar facility opened in the fall of 2013 after a long push from the skating community.
“In my opinion, it’s the nicest park around here,” Fore said. “Could be my favorite park I’ve ever skated.”
But the Haywood County skateboarder does have one complaint about the park. There are no lights. When the sun goes down it can get dicey, and he’d like to see this change with the addition of lights to the park.
“Kids still want to be out there skating, but it gets dangerous — a little piece of moss you can’t see,” Fore said.
Professional skateboarder and Waynesville resident Jared Lee agrees. Adding lights, he said, “makes total sense.”
“Out West it’s a no-brainer that all the parks have lights,” said Lee.
The professional skater was a proponent of the park since its inception. And he’s been thinking about lights at the skate park nearly as long as he’s been thinking about the skate park.
“Once we got the park it just seemed like the next natural thing is to get lights,” Lee said.
But don’t look for after-hour allies or illuminated handplants anytime soon. Lights cost money, and at the moment there is none. The town of Waynesville paid for most of the park’s construction, and it just isn’t willing to take on the additional $40,000 or so that lighting could cost.
But there is optimism, in the skating community at least. They put the mission in perspective: it may be difficult to find the funding to put lights in the skate park, but certainly not as difficult as getting the park itself built.
“It was really hard to get money for the skate park because it was such a big idea,” said Lee. “I think the lights will be easier.”
Into the lights
Western North Carolina offers up a selection of skate parks. Skaters up for a drive can venture between parks in Asheville, Hendersonville, Cherokee and Waynesville.
“We have some of the best parks in the state, which is kind of crazy being a rural area,” said Lee. “We just got lucky with who designed and built our parks.”
Lee’s got friends that come over from Asheville to skate Waynesville’s park. But they complain that it’s difficult to make it over after work and before it gets dark.
Not that his friends could skate a park after dark in Asheville, either.
“None of them have lights,” Lee explained.
It’s summer right now, and the sun stays out late. That’ll change soon, when the students go back to school and the dark descends before dinner.
“Come fall and winter, once you get off work at four or five you have maybe an hour, an hour and a half before it gets dark,” Lee said.
Fore points to younger skaters. Once they head into fall, the school day and academics don’t make a daylight trip to the skate park feasible.
“They don’t even have a chance to get out there and skate,” he said.
Waynesville Parks and Recreation Director Rhett Langston doesn’t doubt that skaters would stay longer if the park were lit.
“Our park could stay open until 10 o’clock,” he said. “I don’t doubt that for a second.”
Lee would like to see his home park become the first in the region to get lights so that skaters could enjoy the park longer, particularly in the fall and winter months.
“It’d be really nice to lead the path on that,” Lee said.
If the park had lights, the skater said, it would serve to draw more people to the area. It would, in theory, generate additional visitor dollars assuming visiting skaters spent money while in town.
Lee guesses that upping the game on Waynesville’s already-solid skate park could even impact some tourists’ travel plans. Skaters take vacations too, and all the better if their destinations have skate parks.
“That’s how I plan most of my vacations,” Lee said.
Flashlights and feasibility
For years, there was a call for the town of Waynesville to have a skate park. It was sold as a place for kids to hang out and do something active, but the price tag was high.
A commendable chunk of the $445,000 total was divvied up among a variety of parties. About ten grand was netted in private donations, the town secured a $60,000 grant from the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, the Waynesville Kiwanis Club donated $20,000 and international skateboarding legend Tony Hawk’s foundation threw in $5,000.
But the town of Waynesville footed the remaining $350,000 of the bill. Town alderman Gary Caldwell was instrumental in nurturing the skate park into being, but he can’t see how the town could contribute any money towards a lighting system for the park.
“Because the town has spent so much as it is,” Caldwell said.
Waynesville will be doing an assessment of the town’s recreational needs soon. It will include visioning and a public input session.
“The key component is getting public feedback — what they would deem as the greatest need,” said Langston.
Out of that assessment process will come a priority list. Langston doesn’t know if skate park lighting will make the top spots.
“We want to make that determination first before we go sticking lighting everywhere,” he said. “This would be a great opportunity for the skaters to voice their opinion that lighting is needed.”
Even if lighting at the skate park is deemed the most important recreational need in town, there’s still no guarantee of funds. Lee understands that.
“They’re just not really in a place they can give us more money right now,” the skater said.
To that end, Lee and Langston are among a small group of people who have met a handful of times to discuss possible ways to pay for lights at the park.
“We do need help. We can’t ask the town for help,” Lee said.
The group is brainstorming. Exploring grant possibilities. Lee is hoping for community buy-in, literally.
“I think there are people out there and businesses that may be willing to support a skate park,” he said.
The price tag still lives in an elusive range.
“Some of the figures, I almost hesitate to throw anything out there because there hasn’t been anything consistent,” said Langston, estimating lights would cost upward of $10,000.
Lee and Fore ballpark the project in the $40,000 to $50,000 neighborhood. But that amount doesn’t scare them.
“As a long-term plan, getting lights up by next winter,” Fore said, “I think it’s totally feasible.”
Until then, Fore will continue to skate until dark. And some may skate a little longer.
“I’ve seen kids out there with flashlights before,” Fore said. “You know, one kid’s got a flashlight and one kid’s skating.”
Interested in helping?
Anyone interesting in helping raise funds for a lighting system in the skate park, or anyone interested in making a donation, may contact the Waynesville Parks and Recreation Department at 828.456.2030 or Jared Lee at 828.400.1252.