Oxford is located in Lafayette County in North Central Mississippi. With only 13,000 permanent residents, the economy of Oxford relies heavily on the 15,000 students and faculty that reside at the state college located there.
Skateboarding is not illegal by law in Oxford, but skateboarding is prohibited in the entire town. Talks began in regards to getting a skatepark in the late 90s. However, due to a communication breakdown and differing opinions between the local skaters and the mayor at the time, the idea of a skatepark would be rejected for many years to come. In 2004, Mayor Richard Howorth was elected. Mayor Howorth has a skateboarder in his family so he understood the need to have a skatepark.
The idea of a skatepark in Oxford was soon resurrected and the Oxford Park Commission (OPC) appointed a local skateboarder’s mom, Jane DePriest, as chairman of the fundraising committee. Solicitations for donations from local businesses soon began. Bubba Robinson, Deputy Director of the Oxford Park Commission… oversaw the project and the committee. Various locals soon joined their efforts as the idea of Oxford getting a skatepark was an exciting idea and for some, something fun to work towards that would benefit the local community in an unprecedented way for many years to come. Soon the committee became more organized and formed a non-profit organization through the CREATE foundation which served as a “bank” of sorts and helped give general direction on fundraising. The project was to be completely community funded and this gave the option for tax write-offs which made donating more appealing in a town where skateboarding was generally viewed as vagrancy.
New members of the committee were added and they took on various roles such as gathering names and addresses for a the mailing list which would serve dual purpose as a “petition” of sorts, organizing fundraising events, writing and soliciting local businesses, etc. T-shirts were designed and a local company offered a discount and the t-shirts were paid for with the first donations from two local companies.
Shortly after the committee was formed and motivated, a “demo” was held on the town square. Woodward Ramps from Louisiana was present for the demo and was in “talks” with the OPC. The company representative brought a couple of ramps that would present an option for a skatepark. A local business donated tamales and t-shirts were sold. The event drew many people from the community, including several skateboarders. Local coverage of the project began in the local and college newspapers.
Shortly after the “demo”, research began on the ever so infamous debate “modular vs concrete”. It became apparent that modular companies were soliciting the business of the OPC. What could have been a downfall was that the majority of the committee was made up of moms who had little or no exposure to skateboarding and were pretty unaware to the benefits and of both options. It became apparent, however, through research by committee member, Kim Cook and discussions with a few local skateboarders, that concrete would be the more appealing permanent solution to the needs of the community’s skateboarders.
It was then decided that a presentation at the monthly OPC meeting was needed to convince them that concrete would be the preferred skatepark medium for a longer lasting, maintenance free area for the skaters to enjoy for years to come. Kim C. put together a brief presentation with descriptions and pictures of both concrete and modular parks after many years of use, pointing out cost comparisons and wear and tear issues. To the committee’s surprise, an OPC employee said “Why wouldn’t we go with concrete??” as if it was common sense. The “battle” was an easy win for the local skateboarders and the committee.
Fundraising moved at a steady pace with various events for a year or so. Grants were written and the committee was successful at winning a Tony Hawk Foundation grant for $25,000 and later that year, a matching grant from the Mississippi Land and Water Conservation Fund. Letters were sent out from the Mayor by the committee members, phone calls were made, and money trickled in for the project. There was even a splendid $10,000 donation from an Anonymous donor! Needless to say, this kept people motivated to keep raising money to get the park built.
Eventually however after two years of working towards this, the fundraising committee dwindled down and shrunk in numbers. Eventually Mike Moore and Mike Rains came along and got the rest of the funds raised to get the project finished. Mike R. had recently moved from Colorado and had some experience with various skateparks and skateboard terrain and various levels of skateboarding skill. This mixed with contacts provided by Thomas Quejya (a local skateboarder) for Grindline, the main focus of the fundraising committee was then switched to getting the right company in to develop a design and construct the skatepark. Experienced skateboarders were getting involved in the most important part of the process where knowledge of skateboarding and what skaters like to skate was most crucial to creating a successful project.
Mike R. contacted Grindline when the “open bid” period was getting down to the wire and they were eager to help Oxford out. The City of Oxford was requiring a “design/build” company which is exactly what Grindline is. Once the bid was secured, design talks began. The committee met a few times and tossed around ideas of design and shared pictures of skateparks they found on the internet and in company brochures that looked “fun”. After proposing general ideas on things they wanted in the park such as a bowl, banks, rail… Grindline developed a design based on input from the committee. They sent a representative and a public meeting was held. The number attending was a small, mixed crowd with both skaters and non-skaters showing up. Grindline left with a few minor changes to the design as suggested by the people attending the meeting.
But to this day, I do not believe the locals knew what they were getting into. Over the next few months, Grindline’s crew came to town and built the park in the Fall of 2005. If you know anything about the southern states, the only thing you can predict about the winter is that it’s going to be cold and wet. It was definitely not the ideal time to construct a skatepark but the money was there and the city was eager to get their skatepark.
Grindline worked through rain, sleet, some sunny days during October to February. The biggest obstacle for the crew to overcome was the weather. Stories of trying to pour the tombstone in the rain with a tarp over their heads, rushing to get the cradle in before the snow and getting the park completed in time were major sources of stress on the crew. Grindline delivered and the ribbons were cut with snow on the ground on Saturday, February 18th, 2006.
Oxford skatepark is 10,000 square feet with about half of that being the bowl. The bowl is a large flow type bowl that has a six foot shallow that slightly hips in to an 8 foot wall with pool coping. There’s a one foot pool coping extension that bowls around into a ten foot deep which hips into two opposing 8 foot walls with steel coping that pockets around into a 14 foot cradle. The most surprising part of the bowl is the “practically” vert all the way around the bowl, tight trannies in the shallow and a 90 degree hip. All in all the bowl is fun for even beginners. It is challenging enough that learning to skate the bowl will definitely prepare you for whatever you skate elsewhere.
The “street” area has great flow to it for being in such a small area. From the flat between the flow area and the bowl, there is an escalating pocket that forms into a bank on one side and a transition on the other. There’s a randomly placed funbox, a hip with a concrete ledge at the top and a volcano in the center. There’s hubbas down and a couple of rails. Ledges form into a pocketed bank with a tombstone in one corner and a kicker at the other end of the banks.. All in all, the flow area is well-designed and endless lines can be found to pump around and “do laps”. That is a good sign of a well-design flow area.
Since the grand opening event where Oxford held it’s very first contest and held a skate demo, it has seen many visitors that travel just to skateboard at one of the few skateparks in the area. The next closest concrete park is 2.5 hours away in Jonesboro, Arkansas, another Grindline skatepark.
The total cost of the park was $350,000 which includes a kiddie playground, pavilion with bathrooms, parking lot and plenty of lighting to keep sessions going until closing time.
Oxford skatepark is open daily from 5 am (dawn) until 11 pm. Helmets and pads are encouraged but are not mandatory. No bikes or scooters are allowed. The skatepark is a free, public park with no fence.
Oxford is located 75 miles south of Memphis, 40 minutes west of Tupelo, 5 hours north of Hammond, Louisiana and only an hour away from the I-40… so clearly it is not that far off the beaten path…. Please come skate with us!
Words by Kim Cook and photos by Austin Cannon